Eleven hours before the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers meeting, Roger Penske was enjoying the La Dolce Vita.
The Captain and his clan were celebrating wife Kathy’s birthday throughout Montenegro, Croatia and Venice.
“If you don’t have a car, you have to have a water taxi,” Penske said of his Venetian holiday as he dodged raindrops at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday.
Penske didn’t miss a thing during vacation — including the consecutive wins by his Nationwide team with AJ Allmendinger at Elkhart Lake and Brad Keselowski Friday night at Kentucky.
Still, in his absence, the rumor of Carl Edwards driving a third Penske Racing car with Quicken Loans as the sponsor next season circled around the garage the last few weeks.
“Absolutely not,” Penske said emphatically. “That’s a good one, but no. We would do a third car if we had proper sponsorship. But right now we have two good young drivers and we continue to get our cars better.”
Penske didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a third car down the road but he remains loyal to Sam Hornish Jr.
And speaking of loyalty, Penske’s commitment to AJ Allmendinger, despite the driver’s faux pas here last year when he failed a NASCAR drug test, goes beyond anyone’s expectations — including Allmendinger’s. Penske has fielded cars for the driver in both IndyCar and the Nationwide Series. Allmendinger is also expected to race at Mid-Ohio in Nationwide and the IndyCar season finale at Fontana.
“I was so pleased to see him in the Winner’s Circle,” Penske said. “It proves to everyone that he can drive a race car and he’s put everything behind him. He’s served his time, so to speak, and proved that even under pressure he was capable of getting the job done.
“This sport will bring you down but it can lift you back up if you let it. AJ has gained a lot of confidence through all of this. I don’t hire guys just to hire them. You want a guy that’s on the climb and he had potential from my perspective . . . he made a mistake and he paid for it.”
THE SECRET WEAPON
Joey Coulter is looking forward to the challenge of running at Eldora on July 27.
Although Coulter has never raced at the “Big E”, in the last year, the 23-year-old, who is currently in his third season in the Truck series — his first with Kyle Busch Motorsports — has been running dirt late-model races for fun and to improve his driving skills.
“It’s going to be exciting,” said Coulter, who is currently eighth in the Truck point standings. “It’s definitely one of the races I’m looking forward to just because it’s so different and no one’s really ever done it especially in the Truck series.
“The last NASCAR race on dirt, I’m sure my crew chief Harold (Holly) was probably there for it but it’s been a while. We’re putting quite a bit of emphasis on it because it’s like a wild-card race. A lot can happen, we just want to make sure we’re up front and out of trouble.”
Coulter will have two advantages: First, his veteran crew chief Harold Holly, who grew up at dirt tracks. Secondly, he will have Dirt Late Model Hall of Famer Scott Bloomquist as his teammate. Coulter is looking forward to working with “VooDoo Child.”
“He’s won just about everything on dirt,” Coulter added. “His experience at the track and how it’s going to change and when it’s going to change is going to be something we’ll be able to lean on. Either way, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Although practice starts at Eldora on Tuesday prior to the event, Coulter said he’ll bring a late model to Eldora to run additional laps. The team also plans to test at Smokey Mountain Speedway in Tenn., “to identify trends and work with the tire.”
51 — Consecutive Sprint Cup races without a rainout. The last one was the 2012 Daytona 500.
2 — Wins out of the three intermediate track races this year for Matt Kenseth. Toyota drivers have won all three with Kyle Busch winning at Texas.
10 — Different drivers have won in the first 16 races this season.
Soap opera star and race fan Steve Burton was a guest of Carl Edwards at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday. Burton, who became a fan “about seven years ago,” went to his first race at Fontana after Jeff Burton (no relation) made a guest appearance on "General Hospital".
Burton, who recently moved from California to Nashville to raise his family, says the central location allows him “to drive to more race tracks.”
“I love it man, it’s a great sport,” Burton said.
As for Burton’s return to GH, where he was a fixture for 20 seasons, the 43-year-old Indianapolis-native added, “I am not. I’m on the ‘Young and the Restless’ now. I left ‘General Hospital’. I wanted to live in Nashville and work out a deal with them where I could fly back and forth and it just didn’t work out. Then ‘Young and the Restless said, ‘We’ll do it.’ So I said, ‘OK, great.’ I can still act and live in the country, so it’s great. It’s a good balance for me.
“My son is a huge NASCAR fan — a diehard fan. He knows every driver, every number, every track, everything. I took him to Talladega. He said it was better than Disneyland.”