Certainly, the racing icon is no stranger to titles and prestigious race wins. He has 15 Indianapolis 500 wins to his credit and a pair of Daytona 500 victories. He has 12 IndyCar Series titles over his storied career. He even helped orchestrate the Super Bowl when it was played in Detroit.
But for years, there’s been a noticeable gap in Penske’s resume.
Brad Keselowski has filled that.
First in 2010, when he handed his Penske his first title in one of NASCAR’s three major touring series in taking the Nationwide Series crown.
But in 2012, he did for Penske what no one else — not Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, nor previous Cup champ Kurt Busch, nor a host of other talented drivers — had managed. He raced to the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.
That puts an owner who had the likes of Mark Donohue, Donnie Allison and Dave Marcis driving for him in his 1972 debut season into the top tier of NASCAR owners. Penske, a man with more than 350 race wins in major series, adds reaching the pinnacle of NASCAR racing to his credit.
Widely admired for his class and professionalism, he’s now what he has been chasing all along — a Sprint Cup Series champion.
“Personally, I feel amazing that I’ve been able to achieve this in racing,” Penske said. “I’ve lauded the people that have been on that stage for so many years in Las Vegas and New York, and to be able to join this elite group and say that I’m a champion in NASCAR means a lot, and certainly . . . it takes a lot of people, but I think it took the guts for me to stay in the sport.
"We could have thought, ‘Well, we won the Indy 500 15 times and we’re a big deal.’ But I’ll tell you one thing: Until you get here and you compete at the top and win it, you really know what’s happened, and I think I just woke up here (Sunday night), and it’s a big thrill.”
Obviously, it’s something he has wanted for years. Penske has at times come tantalizingly close to reaching it — but has always had to settle for watching someone else enjoy the moment.
“It’s a goal that I wanted to achieve, and I tried hard,” he said. “We were close in ’93 with Rusty finishing second and then third in ’94. That’s a long time ago.”
Now, though, he’s celebrating in the present.
And, as a tribute to just how much he is respected in the sport, competitors in the sport were quick to congratulate him on the title.
“I respect him so much, and he is such a good friend,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of 10 Cup titles who just lost this one to Penske. “So I’m real happy for him. I’m very, very he’s paid his dues, he’s won a bunch of championships, and he’s done a lot of hard work in this sport.”
He’s not the only one, though.
As they tried to wrap their minds around the newly won title, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe were quick to point to all what Penske did to boost them to this level.
Motivated by the desire to put Penske on top, they found him open to suggestion and hands-on in his approach to capturing the elusive title.
“It’s, obviously, very special, not only for myself but everybody at Penske Racing,” Wolfe said. “So much has gone into this, and I’m thankful for the opportunity that RP has given me and Brad. There’s been plenty of lists we’ve passed his way of things we wanted, and it was our job when we got those things to go out there and perform, and I feel like for the most part we’ve tried to do that, and over the last three years we’ve been able to accomplish a lot of great things.”
Penske admits that he’s goal-oriented and has worked hard for the title. Still, he had to find the right formula. No matter how much one is willing to put into the sport, it takes more than throwing cash and brain power at it to emerge on top.
“It’s not about how much money you have and what you can buy on the racetrack,” Penske said. “It’s about the people. It’s about the human capital that we’ve been able to put together.
“. . . This business has changed. It’s a little more technical now, it’s a little more in our bailiwick, and to me we’re executing. And with a leader like Brad who really cares about the team, it’s not just about Brad Keselowski, I want to let you know that. He is every day trying to make our team better. So that’s motivating me, and this is a great opportunity, obviously.
“When you’re racing, I call it the gold standard, the best in the business. Rick Hendrick is a great friend of mine, I have a lot of respect for him both on the business side and certainly on the racing side, and (Jimmie) Johnson is a cool cat. He knows how to get it done. He’s gotten it done five times. So just being in the league with them, it’s the final day, you’re teeing up the last 18 and we’re in the same foursome, so that’s a pretty good day.”
He quickly points to the people around him, to working with Wolfe and Penske and how far they’ve come as a group. Keselowski was once tied to Hendrick through its sister operation JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, won his first race with Phoenix Racing and then landed with Penske Racing. He has been racing full time in Cup for only three years, two with Wolfe at the helm.
And look what they’ve done.
“When I look back at this at least in this moment, I think of those three people and I think how proud I am to be a part of taking them from the unknown, because I was right there with them, to where we’re at today,” he said. “Obviously I look at RP as being a piece of that, as well, and doing something that nobody else has ever done with Roger, which is something very special.
“You know, obviously, I was in that whole Hendrick mix in 2008 and ’09, and winning it for Roger is much sweeter than that ever could have been because I know this is an accomplishment nobody else has ever done.”