Friday, November 4, 2011

Team Penske Stays Intact for 2012

Team Penske officially announced Thursday that all three of its drivers: Will Power, Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves, will return to the team next year.

That is hardly a surprise, for sure, because short of sponsor issues there really wasn't a reason for any of the seats to change hands, despite what many consider a less-than-Penske-type season from two of the three participants.

Of course, Power threw down his second straight outstanding campaign, winning six times and finishing second in points to Dario Franchitti for the second year in a row. A master at road and street courses, Power finally scored his first win on an oval at Texas, but low finishes (and some bad luck) at Iowa, Toronto and Kentucky were his undoing.

Castroneves, on the other hand, had his worst season in his 12 with the organization, finishing 11th in points, including nine finishes of 17th or worse, and failing to win a race for the first time this century. He also was at fault in several incidents early in the season, and spent a lot of time either apologizing or explaining his actions. But what made this season very un-Helio-like was the fact he was an absolute non-factor at Indianapolis. After qualifying 16th he drove around in the back of the pack all day and eventually finished a lap down in 17th place. It was the first time in his career that he finished the race but was not on the lead lap.

Briscoe finished the season sixth in points and posted four podium finishes in a season that looked worse on paper than it really was. Several of his poor early-season efforts were the result of incidents that weren't of his doing (like at Birmingham and Indy) and he might have only trailed Graham Rahal in the bad luck category in a couple of other races.

It's strange that Briscoe has been on the hot seat virtually since he started racing with Penske. It just seems like people put him as the odd-man-out whenever the discussion of a seat coming open on that team arises, even though he has seven wins in his tenure. Perhaps it is because his efforts at Indy have been disappointing, and next to championships a Penske driver is judged on their performace at the Brickyard. Who knows.

Still, what we do know is that Roger Penske likes continutity with his organizations, and more than anything that is reflected in the team staying together. Since the 2000 season, Penske Racing has employed just five full-time drivers: the current team, Sam Hornish Jr. (left for NASCAR) and Gil de Ferran (retired). He doesn't like change and tries hard to not play musical chairs with his drivers, which is a testament to his vetting process in the first place.

It's obvious that his team brings what he wants to the table. Power is working his way up the list of the world's finest drivers (figuring out ovals would make him an absolute superstar), you have to think Castroneves' season was an outlier, and even if it weren't, his Indy performance was, and there isn't any reason to believe he won't capture that magic again one -- or even two -- more times. I would guess that getting his fourth or fifth Indy wins in a Penske livery is important to the Captain. Briscoe's contribution to the team is that he shows flashes of brilliance and when his confidence is high he can compete with anyone.

Not to mention all are a sponsor's dream. They drive well, conduct themselves with professionalism and class and are bright and intelligent. And in this day and age of the sport that is almost as important as performance on the track.

If Roger Penske has proven anything in his four decades as an owner, it's that he doesn't miss very often. And with the current lineup, it doesn't look like he will miss in 2012, either.

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