CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski got the first of many surprises at his first meeting with racing great Roger Penske.
The rising NASCAR star now driving Penske Racing’s No. 2 discovered the Michigan address for their get together was an unmarked, routine building Keselowski had driven by all the time growing up in Rochester Hills. He never knew it housed Penske’s offices.
Keselowski shrugs his shoulder and smiles, saying, “That’s just Roger.”
Penske will see if his buttoned-down approach works during one of auto racing’s biggest weekends, at the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600.
Penske has been the king of Indianapolis with a record 15 wins. The team has three entries in the top six starters this year, including Ryan Briscoe on the pole, series points leader Will Power in fifth and three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves in sixth.
Team Penske is also in strong shape to chase a second Coca-Cola 600 crown in three seasons. Keselowski owns victories at Bristol and Talladega this year while teammate AJ Allmendinger is starting 11th and had a fast car throughout Thursday’s practice.
Keselowski, who’ll start 24th for Sunday night’s NASCAR race, said Penske’s ethic to be the best flows through all the programs. “What makes it so much fun to be part of his teams is the commitment to excellence that (Penske) has,” he said.
Penske moved the IndyCar shop south in 2007 to put all operations under one roof — and spread the shared success of Penske Racing.
“If Penske racing has a win, as far as I’m concerned, that has an umbrella effect for every one of our people. From the shop people to the truck drivers to the pit crews and the crew chiefs and the chief mechanics,” said the mogul known at the “Captain.”
Penske president Tim Cindric said the formula to winning is the same in NASCAR as it is in IndyCar.
“I think over time we’ve been able to take the best of both worlds,” Cindric said. “I think we’ve been able to take the good out of both, and you couldn’t do that unless they were in the same building. So we are starting to see more of the payback.”
Penske takes a hands-on approach. He was at Indianapolis last Saturday for qualifying, then flew to North Carolina to watch Keselowski and Allmendinger compete in NASCAR’s All-Star Race that night. Keselowski won a segment of the All-Star race while Allmendinger finished second in the Sprint Showdown to advance to the main field.
Sometimes it’s hard for Briscoe to believe his boss’ dedication. Penske “was there right until the buzzer at 6,” Briscoe said. “I am doing the media things, and I look up and he’s in Charlotte for the All-Star race.”
Penske has brought his success to NASCAR. His cars have 73 victories since he first fielded a Sprint Cup car for Mark Donohue at Riverside International Raceway in 1972. Penske won his first and only Coca-Cola 600 two years back with Kurt Busch.
Keselowski first ran for Penske in 2009 and became a fulltime Sprint Cup driver a season later. Last season, Keselowski won Kansas, Pocono and Bristol and finished fifth in the series. The 28-year-old still chuckles at some of Penske’s corporate quirks.
“We joke all the time that if somebody leaves papers on their desk, he’ll walk through when he’s there and find the biggest cabinet you can find and dump them all in there because that’s how he wants things,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski remembers how intimidated he felt at meeting Penske. Over time, Keselowski has seen genius in Penske’s approach.
“He knows how to make things nicer than what you ever thought they could be,” Keselowski said.
Ryan Newman drove Sprint Cup cars for Penske from 2000 through 2008. He said Penske spent so much time with the IndyCar side of things “that when he came here it was to show up and watch the race,” Newman said. “I guess maybe a different mentality that we saw from a stock car side than what the IndyCar guys saw.”
Penske’s goal has always been the same — to build winning programs, whatever the series.
Briscoe, the Indy polesitter, said Penske Racing wants to double up on Sunday and believes they have the talent to accomplish it and bring Penske another milestone. “We’re definitely excited,” Briscoe said. “It would mean so much to win two races in one day for Roger.”