'It's sure a great piece of satisfaction for me to see this happen,' said 77-year-old team owner Roger Penske after his driver Will Power rode to victory Saturday. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
Detroit — A gambler’s tip: If Roger Penske shows up at one of the casinos this weekend at your blackjack table, scurry away.
It would be a good time to take a break, because the 48-year veteran racing owner is hot, hot, hot!
In victory lane, at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park, it was as if The Captain’s effusive smile outshined the sun, even on a gorgeous day along the Detroit River.
Penske Racing had not won in Indy cars in the Motor City in 13 years.
But with Will Power at the wheel, holding off a stiff challenge from Graham Rahal in the final laps, the drought ended Saturday.
“It's sure a great piece of satisfaction for me to see this happen,” said the 77-year-old Penske.
He seemed confident all week. As he climbed out of an SUV at Campus Martius on Thursday, he asserted his resolve.
“There’s no question our goal is to win, here, at Belle Isle,” Penske said.
In fact, Penske’s stable seemed to have its choice of winners.
Another driver, Helio Castroneves could easily have triumphed, Saturday. But awkwardly timed yellow flags made a hodgepodge of Castroneves’ racing strategy, after the 15-year veteran of Penske Racing had won his first pole in Detroit since 2007.
And when it came to poles this weekend, Penske’s hand included three-of-a-kind: Castroneves in IndyCar in Detroit and two in NASCAR, Brad Keselowski in Sprint Cup and Joey Logano in Nationwide.
But that was not the totality of the triumph for Penske.
Honda had been dominant here. With the headquarters of General Motors just two miles west of the Raceway at Belle Isle Park — in the giant Renaissance Center that marks the Detroit skyline in a clear view from much of the race track — it had stuck in Chevrolet’s craw, race after race, for years.
You knew it was in Penske’s craw, too.
Chevy powered Power, third-place finisher Tony Kanaan, also driving for Ganassi, and Castroneves, who finished fifth.
Honda had to settle for second and fourth, in the first Dual in Detroit race of the weekend.
The conquests for Penske included those at the hands of drivers and crews who make manifestly clear they are not on Roger Penske’s home turf to win so much for themselves, as for him.
Power, who reduced the margin between him and the IndyCar championship leader Ryan Hunter-Reay to just three points, came to the point quickly
“It was a great victory for Roger,” Power said. “On his home track and in Chevy's backyard, it's a perfect day.
“We were hoping one of the Penske cars could do it. I’m very happy that it was me.”
Power came from 16th to first to capture the victory.
“I never would have expected that we could do that,” he said.
After finishing second six days ago in the Indianapolis 500, in the second-closest finish in the history of the race, Castroneves was so ebulliently triumphant in his pit when he won the pole that he celebrated like a victor in a race.
Asked about his dynamic delight, Castroneves shrugged. It was not so much bouncing back from Indy that made him so effusive.
“For Roger, obviously,” he said. “And that’s why I was kind of like cooing. That was good and I’m very, very happy.
“I’m excited. Like I said, it’s Roger’s background, and I am biased because I got my first win ever here. So I really enjoy this place.”
Castroneves proved qualifying in the cooler track temperatures at 8:30 a.m. was no fluke. His car was just as fast when the bumpy concrete and asphalt warmed up considerably by the drop of the green flag at 3:50 p.m. At one point in the race, Castroneves had a seven-second lead and clear air in front of him in first place. It seemed like he could slow down, preserve fuel and win.
Then other drivers started running into walls. When they did, some of the tires that protect them from injury disgorged rain water that had collected from the weeks the track was in preparation.
The mess caused longer yellows than seemed possible, as dryers were dispatched to prepare the track, again, for racing.
It destroyed Castroneves’ chances.
When the race was over, he was crediting the man who speaks in his ears throughout the races for engineering the fifth-place finish.
“Roger did the best job with the fuel strategy, and it gave us a fifth-place finish,” Castroneves said. “We had the fastest car out there, but unfortunately that wasn’t the way that it played out.
“Thankfully, someone from Team Penske was able to capture the win.”
Wins all around
For Penske, who keeps his business headquarters in Bloomfield Hills and is active in the revitalization of the City of Detroit, it was a prime achievement, among others. That the entire affair, the whole week, the two IndyCar races this weekend and the racetrack itself result from his efforts, made the day a singular event for a sportsman and entrepreneur.
“I think it’s first place, first place, first place,” he said. “First, for the fans, all the teams and obviously with Will’s win.
“Will ran a great race. Graham Rahal is one of the great young lions of this sport, and to see him come up at the end, no one could sit down and watch that racing.”
And the racing man stepped back when the civic leader took over.
“But, to me, I want to thank all of the people here in Detroit, the ones that have supported this race, the drivers and the teams.
“What a great day.
“I love the spirit of Detroit, now. We love Detroit.”