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2-Headed Monster: Will Penske’s Ownership Be Good or Bad for IndyCar & Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Monday morning (Nov. 4) started with the motorsports bombshell of the year: Penske Entertainment Corp purchased Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the NTT Indycar Series. Penske Entertainment Corp is, of course, the company under racing icon Roger Penske, who owns teams in NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA and the Supercars Championship.

While Penske is passionate about racing and has a knack for business, him owning the series and the track are a bit of a conflict of interest. That leads to this week’s debate question: Will Penske’s ownership of the two entities prove more good or more bad? It’s the Michael and Michael Show, as Michael Finley and Michael Massie lead this week’s debate.

There are Holes in The Captain’s Sails

In a complex topic such as this, the most important trait one may have in an argument is that of clarity.

There’s no doubt – no doubt – that in a vacuum, Roger Penske owning Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar is great. Penske is not just a very successful businessman, but he’s also “one of us,” a former driver, team owner, strategist and even a track builder.

Joey Logano struggled for years with Joe Gibbs, one of the best head coaches in football history and a master at getting the most out of his talent in all positions. Penske saved Logano from being demoted to the NASCAR Xfinity Series and turned him into a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, getting way more out of Logano’s talents than the Pro Football Hall of Fame head coach.

However, Penske’s plans with his new assets do not make a lot of sense for longterm growth.

The most obvious and glaring is that Team Penske will continue to compete in IndyCar. It doesn’t matter who Penske hires to oversee the competition side to avoid a conflict of interest. It doesn’t matter if Penske steps down from being the in-race strategist for the team to avoid a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest is a conflict of interest. And just because racing has been full of them since a Bill France-owned Plymouth won the inaugural Southern 500 doesn’t make it right.

Imagine if, in any other sport, one team owner owned the league. Team owners owning the league isn’t unheard of — in fact, NASCAR is probably the biggest sports governing body in America to where that isn’t the case. But one team owner? Really?

How can anybody trust IndyCar inspectors when they do their jobs around the Team Penske cars when a man named Penske is writing their checks? And if you aren’t a fan of guaranteed entries into the Indianapolis 500, too bad. The team owner most in support of that system just bought the whole pizza, so if he wants sardines, he’s going to get them.

I’m also not a big fan of some of Penske’s ideas for IMS in general. While lights needed to happen yesterday, adding a 24-hour race at Indianapolis would make the track even less special than it is now.

It used to be that you had to be one of the 33 fastest qualifiers of the Indianapolis 500 in order to brag that you raced at Indy. Then, the NASCAR Cup Series came along, which didn’t water it down that much, especially with over 50 teams trying to qualify for it those first few years. But then there came MotoGP. The US Grand Prix. The Indianapolis Grand Prix. The Xfinity Series race was just the nail in the coffin when it came to it being special to race at Indianapolis.

Having a 24-hour race sounds like a cool idea on paper. But having over 200 drivers competing at Indianapolis waters down the concept of it being special to drive there dramatically.

And a Formula One race? We’re really going to try that again? It would be a dumb move for everybody involved. The absolute last thing Formula One needs right now is more dates. If F1 returned to Indianapolis, there would be five races in North America alone if the Miami proposal comes to fruition. That’s way too many races for something that is still a niche sport in America, and it runs the risk of burning the audience out. Combine that with how many races in general F1 has on its calendar (22 in 2020), and it’s just a dumb idea.

At the end of the day, however, the most glaring problem with this situation is the conflict of interest Penske now has as a result of this transaction. If this move is a success, it ultimately starts with Penske selling off Team Penske to the best bidder for the job. – Michael Finley

That Penske Touch

Roger Penske will be an excellent owner for both Indycar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and his ownership will lift the significance of both.

There is no man currently in racing who carries the prestige, class and professionalism that Penske carries. He shares the same quality of Richard Petty in that every head turns to look when he walks into a room. When one is in the presence of Penske, they feel they must be on their “A”-game — you surely don’t want to look like an idiot in front of The Captain.

Indianapolis is one of the few tracks on the NASCAR and IndyCar circuits that holds a level of prestige matches Penske’s. Indy and Penske might be the motorsports love affair of the past half-century — Penske first fielded a car in the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 with Mark Donohue driving. Since then, The Captain’s cars have won a record-setting 18 Indy 500s, and Brad Keselowski scored Penske his first Brickyard 400 win last year. So no one can cry about a conflict of interest in that regard, because Penske already owned everyone at the track — now, he just owns the track, too.

He’s experienced everything there is to experience at Indianapolis, which makes him quite the asset as an owner. He’ll have the same positive impact that Tony Stewart has had on Eldora Speedway. Plus, Penske has previous experience owning racetracks — he previously owned Michigan International Speedway, Auto Club Speedway in California, Rockingham Speedway and Nazareth Speedway and was instrumental in the start of Homestead-Miami Speedway. He greatly expanded Michigan, and Rockingham and Nazareth weren’t closed down until after he sold them to International Speedway Corp.

So the guy knows how to operate a racetrack and should do great running Indianapolis. The track has needed a burst of positive influence for some time, and many (including myself) have wanted NASCAR to leave the track, as stock cars don’t race well there. Penske might have the creativity to come up with ideas that will maintain the importance of the Indy 500 and rejuvenate NASCAR’s weekend there.

As for owning the entire IndyCar Series, yes, there is a clear-cut conflict of interest as Penske will continue owning a chunk of the teams in the series. But motorsports and conflicts of interest go together like peas and carrots. I don’t see this conflict of interest as being any worse than when Verizon was the title sponsor and a major sponsor for Team Penske. It’s not any worse than in NASCAR when Jimmie Johnson dominated at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in a Lowe’s car, then suddenly wasn’t as successful once it went back to being called Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Like I said about IMS, Penske winning in IndyCar is nothing new. It’s not like he needs to make any calls that favor his cars or give his manufacture an advantage. In fact, Penske is such a stand-up character, that I see him doing the opposite — I think he’ll be harder on his teams to try to avoid any conflicts of interest claims.

With him taking on these responsibilities in addition to his many other business ventures, Penske will probably have less of a role with his team. He might even be easing his way out of owning them. Regardless, having his expertise as a former driver, current owner and track operator will be valuable in leading IndyCar into the future.

More importantly, Penske is a racer at heart. Who better to lead the series? His passion and prior experiences will be just as valuable as they were for former driver Bill France Sr. when he was getting NASCAR going. If Penske hadn’t bought it, then you know who would have? Some corporation (Liberty Global was rumored at one point) would have bought it and used it to promote its product without a care in the world for fans, teams and traditions.

It’s nearly impossible to have an owner for IndyCar and Indianapolis who doesn’t have some type of conflict of interest, so just be happy the most qualified man got it. I’m excited to see what Penske will do. – Michael Massie

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About Michael Massie

Michael Massie
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    Is this anymore of a conflict of interest than the Tony George IRL days?

  2. Avatar

    I don’t think there is reason for short term concern regarding the conflict of interest. As Mr Penske noted, the media will be all too glad to put every move he makes under a microscope. But one has to wonder once Roger is gone, will the company operate in the same manner, and could COI become an issue at that point? At the same time, what options are there? Forced sale (who would or could buy and operate the race teams?) or just shut them down and cost how many employees their jobs while removing some of the best teams/drivers from the Indycar lineup? I don’t see how removing Penske from owning race teams helps strengthen the product put on the track for fan’s entertainment (in the near future, anyway). It’s complex and will require someone smarter than me to figure it out without ruining everything.

    I’m not sure there is anyone else, or any other organization, better suited for taking over Indycar/IMS at this time. That said, I really, REALLY hope Mr Penske steps away from the idea of guaranteeing teams a starting spot in the Indy 500. I gained a lot of respect for James Hinchcliffe when he got bumped from the 500 in 2018 and said he didn’t want to buy his way in from another driver who had earned their opportunity to be in the race. To me, that showed a ton of class and major respect for the event as well as the other competitors/teams. Mr Penske would be wise to heed this example set by Mr Hinchcliffe.

    As for other events, ultimately the speedway is a business. A historic, Iconic one, but the bankers don’t care about any of that – it still has to be profitable if it is to keep the gates open. Thus, Mr Penske is 100% right to consider changes that could bring in more racing events, reach more racing fans (expand IMS’ fan base), and generate more revenue for upkeep/renovations and securing a successful future for the track.

    • Avatar

      the Indy 500 needs some innovation similar to late 60’s and 70″s. and it might increase the car counts, where qualifying would become important. I seem to remember Robin Miller had some ideas to simplify the cars which would open the competition to even the smaller teams. I’m ready to see a new all wheel drive gas turbine going for the lead.

  3. Avatar

    Just the chubby housewives who love little Chase.

  4. Avatar

    Roger Penske is one of us? Not many of us were entitled trust fund kids who spent daddies money on sports cars that were consistently faster with someone else driving.
    The spoiled brat who used his money to start CART after his wallet was too small for F-1
    I don’t think so.

    • Avatar

      A man who had opportunities and used them instead of pissing them away, taking that “trust fund” and multiplying it.. That’s what he is.

  5. Avatar

    Very well stated article. I wholeheartedly agree that he will be more watchful of his teams now that he owns the series. I do have one that I do differ on. I don’t think that Indy is being watered down. I think what this will do is make the race there very significant for each series that runs there. Think of it as the Indy or Daytona for each of the different series. The track itself holds the mystique, not the race itself. While the Indy 500 is a hallmark race in and of itself, I believe that other series races will be able to hold up well and may even make the venue better. Just my thoughts.

  6. Avatar

    Who knows! Nothing of consequence has happened yet. Good for articles though.

  7. Avatar

    The same people who think Penske shouldn’t own Indycar and have Indycar teams would be moaning in ecstasy if Rick Hendrick bought NASCAR.

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