Good lord, have I been busy! So major apologies for no posts in the last couple of weeks. I've done plenty of writing, just not here. But, a few things happened this week so I figured now would be a good time to get back into the swing of things.
Anyway, this week brought the confirmation of Graham Rahal signing a contract to drive for his dad Bobby and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Service Central continues its sponsorship and Valvoline is on board as an associate sponsor.
Let's get this one out of the way right now (and I know I'm not the only one that feels this way): if there is any opportunity to get the Valvoline livery -- especially circa early 1990s Al Unser Jr. style -- please, please do so! It would be great to see those colors taking laps again.
While we have kind of known for a while that Graham was going to drive for his dad, it's good that everything is now set in stone. Because as we have discovered this silly season, there are lots of rumors but few confirmed deals. On that front, hopefully those deals get done soon.
I think this is going to be an outstanding pairing that has been in the works for a long time. Like any dad, Bobby wanted his son in the family business, but I'm glad they both had agreed that Graham would find his own way first so that it didn't seem he was handed a ride. Graham has more than done so, establishing himself as a solid driver while earning respect on the business side for his dealing with sponsors, something his dad is very good at too.
And as Graham himself said, there will be no doubts as to who will be the No. 1 driver on the team. That wasn't the case over the last couple of years driving for Ganassi B as he was, at best, the third driver on the team. I'm not saying that was the wrong thing because Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon earned their spots on that pecking order, but I don't think Graham (and Charlie Kimball) was given the necessary resources to win.
He has them now, but what comes with that is the pressure that comes with being QB1. As Takuma Sato proved last year, RLL can turn out some really fast cars, and Bobby Rahal is one of the best in getting his driver(s) in position to win on race day. This is Graham's best chance to show that he can win and compete at the highest levels of IndyCar.
Graham's arrival all but assures Sato's departure, and here's hoping he finds something out there full-time, although if he doesn't it's a good bet he is back with RLL at Indy. When Sato keeps his head together and keeps the car in one piece, he is very, very good. The problem is that he has struggled with consistency throughout his career. He still makes mistakes at the worst possible time, but there is no question he can win. It's just a matter of how much money he will spend breaking stuff in the process.
Also with a new ride (that came complete with a Get Out of Jail card) next year is Simona de Silvestro, who this week tested with KV Racing and her new teammate, Tony Kanaan, last week.
Judging by the photos I saw on Twitter, Simona seemed in good spirits. Meaning, she probably went very fast and liked it! I see her season of 2013 a lot like Rahal's in that there is the pressure there to produce. There is no doubt she has the talent, but the last two years have been an utter loss to her career.
She started 2011 with an updated Dallara chassis, but lost that when a suspension part failure at Indy sent her into a hard crash with the Turn 4 wall that saw her car flip over and saw de Silvestro suffer burns to her hands. She later crashed at Milwaukee and had to pull out of the race with concussion symptoms that also caused her to miss the Iowa race.
Last year you can sum up her problems in one word: Lotus. Enough said.
Needless to say, 2013 is a sort of make or break season. I'm not saying de Silvestro needs to run up front and win races, but she needs to consistently break into the Top 10 and even contend for a podium at times.
Finally, it's hard to think that in four decades as a car owner (and even longer as a driver) that there was something Roger Penske HADN'T won. Still, after winning Indy 15 times and capturing 12 open wheel championships, Penske Racing had never captured a NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
Brad Keselowski had given Penske his first NASCAR championship of any kind when they teamed up to win the Nationwide Series in 2010, and added the big trophy today when Keselowski finished 15th at Homestead to secure the Sprint Cup.
I've been more than critical of Penske at times because I do believe he has put his own interests over those of IndyCar, but my hat is off to him here. Winning a championship at any level of racing isn't easy, as indicated by the fact he has yet to win an IndyCar title since returning to the series full-time 10 years ago. To win one takes such a combination of skill, organization and preparation meeting opportunity. I won't call it "luck" because I don't necessarily believe in that word. Everyone creates their own opportunities, unless it deals with the lottery and holes in one in golf. Yes, those are about luck and no, I don't feel that way because I'm bitter because I've never had a hole in one!
You will find few people better in an walk of life who are better at putting the right people in the right places to succeed as Penske. You can argue about the fact he has more money than anyone else, but when the green falls you still have to execute a plan and get the job done. And he has done that better than almost anyone in racing over the years.
This was a long time coming, so congratulations to Kes and Penske on a job well done.