Photo from twitter.com
In the past, John Menard placed his immense IndyCar sponsorship money for the good of the sport with drivers and teams who needed it – not with super teams who don’t.
On Tuesday Team Penske announced a partnership with the Midwesterner Menard for three races this season, including the all important 100th Indy 500. His sponsorship dollars will go to the irascible Frenchman Simon Pagenaud‘s 22 car for three races, culminating at Road America in Menard’s home state of Wisconsin. This decision by the “Save Big Money” man is highly disappointing, to say the least.
Photo from speedsport-magazine.com
In one sense, we at IRR appreciate Menard’s recently announced IndyCar backing, which used to be a staple of the series. Like many, we welcome the prodigal billionaire back. Also appreciated are his cars’ distinctive day-glow paint schemes, adding much to open wheel racing’s aesthetic. Last but not least, the billionaire’s backing of the 100th Indy 500 admittedly is also a gracious, though self serving, gesture. But that’s where the rub comes in, as his backing in this case is badly misplaced.
Citing a lack of “fun,” Menard jumped ship to NASCAR back in 2004 after sponsoring IndyCar teams for twenty five years. Menard’s IndyCar drivers included the late Scott Brayton, Greg Ray and a younger, slimmer and more sane Tony Stewart. He also said he didn’t want his son Paul, who was bitten by the racing bug, to drive open wheel cars. So he up and took his millions to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ series instead. Now, he’s back for the most important race in history Memorial Day weekend, hoping to steal a win.
Photo from freerepublic.com
Firmly on the NASCAR side of the racing fence, a Penske – Menard victory at Indy would be a double indignity for IndyCar fans everywhere. Roger Penske is the all time leader in Indy 500 wins, his team the veritable New York Yankees of IndyCar. Enough already. Now that the Cap’n’s cozied up with a NASCAR usurper, a Penske-Menard appearance in victory lane is the last thing the second fiddle series needs in its most important ever race.
The argument that he wants to win the Indy 500 falls flat, as “King” Pagenaud isn’t going to prevail in the 100th Indy 500. Of his four career wins in seventy two IndyCar starts, he’s never won – or really even come close – on an oval track. It’s too bad the old Menard, who as Penske himself said “has always taken a guy that needed help . . . and had success,” isn’t sticking to that model. Instead, he’s cast his lot with Herr Kapitan’s super team, the best funded outfit in the paddock. Neither Pags nor his car need help. Apparently in Menard’s mind, IndyCar underdogs are best left sleeping.
Anyone who follows the sport knows Menard helping Pope Penske is unnecessary and – worse – misguided. His money would be better spent with another, lesser team making a potential victory that much sweeter. This is particularly true in a crucially important year where the field once again will struggle to top the traditional minimum thirty three Indy 500 entries. If he really wanted to help the series, the sport and the 100th running of the 500, he’d have placed his dollars with a more needy – and deserving – team.