Back in style
Redemption for exiled Penske in return to Brickyard
INDIANAPOLIS (CNNSI.com) -- At Indy, victories are common for Roger Penske. Maybe that's why his triumph Sunday at the Indianapolis 500 stood out from the rest.
Returning to the Brickyard after five years in exile, Penske extended his record, earning his 11th victory as an owner when Helio Castroneves crossed the finish line 1.73 seconds ahead of fellow Penske driver Gil de Ferran.
There were no tears after this victory for Penske, just the satisfaction gleaned from winning again at his favorite track, and overcoming one of his most gut-wrenching failures.
"Knowing the circumstances of getting here, this has to be at top of the list," Penske said.
The victory wiped away one of the very few awful memories Penske has of Indy -- the 1995 failure, when defending champion Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi couldn't even qualify.
It was a long, slow walk back to the garage that day -- the most successful car owner in Indy history denied a chance to compete in the race he had dominated over the decades.
"This kind of takes away the pain we had in 1995," Penske said. "I can tell you that walking back to the garage with Al and Emerson and coming to victory circle today is a big difference."
Dressed in black, his silver hair blowing in the wind, Penske looked like he was running a board meeting as he paced in the back of de Ferran's pit, directing the first 1-2 owner finish at Indy since 1997, when Arie Luyendyk and Scott Goodyear did it for Fred Treadway.
"I can assure you, we came here to win," Penske said.
In his world, there is no other reason to compete.
Penske didn't come to Indy between 1996 and 2000 because of the nasty split between Championship Auto Racing Teams and the Indy Racing League.
Although his past success soured many race fans on Penske, they seemed to celebrate his return. "When we were winning all those races, they booed us. Now they welcome us back," he said last week.
Indeed, Penske's return conjured memories of better times in the world of open-wheel racing, when good guys and bad guys weren't so hard to pick out.
But Penske never mistook this return for some misty eyed sentimental journey.
Rather, the sting of the last failure stayed in his mind, drove him harder and didn't allow him to take even a brief moment to reminisce about his defining role in Indy history.
The most difficult, emotional stage of this return trip came weeks ago, during qualifying, the scene of the disappointment in 1995.
"Once we got qualified and I saw the car running strong, it was business as usual," Penske said.
That means taking care of details in a way hardly anybody else could imagine.
The night before the race, Penske was in his massive motorhome with the crew and drivers, looking at videotape of the 2000 race.
"Kind of like a football coach," he said. "We wanted to see the starts and restarts, because we haven't been here in a while."
Well prepared, Penske's team rarely faltered. By lap 149, Castroneves had the lead and de Ferran was second. A while later, they were crossing the finish line 1-2, carving out yet another spot in the record books for the Ice Man of Indy.
"It's a race that brings out emotions for him," de Ferran said. "He really loves it -- or at least that's my read on it."
Truly, it is hard to tell. Emotion never gets in the way of business for Penske, who built an $11.5 billion transportation empire with the same cool calculation he used to build this championship team.
Moments after the victory, he was already looking ahead.
"We'll be back next year," he said.
And gunning for Victory Lane, as usual.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.