The most bestest solution for Penske

Posted by Iannucci | 11/23/2008 | 25 comments »
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Since there’s no actual racing to discuss the predominant conversation for IRL fans has revolved around the question “Who’s gonna replace Helio?” Many journalists are openly suggesting Ryan Hunter-Reay or Justin Wilson or Oriol Servia because they’re good drivers who are unemployed. Many fans are hoping, begging, pleading that that Roger Penske bring back Sam Hornish Jr because he’s been there and done that quite well. One word butcher even suggested that The Captain might be looking to hand-pick a driver named Vitor from another team.

This just shows there are lots of options for Team Penske, which means that (a) they’ll likely end up with a good driver and (b) whoever it is will be second-guessed the first time they faltered. Look how many people were suggesting Ryan Briscoe should be fired after his first few races in 2008. Come on, you know who you are – don’t try to act like that didn’t happen.

But forget the Briscoe Inferno for just a moment and allow me to express a personal opinion on who should be his teammate for 2009. (That is, the best driver other than Helio Castroneves, who IS the best driver available.) A premier team like Penske needs not just a replacement but THE BEST replacement, so after careful consideration I’d like to offer my two cents who would be the best option for everyone.

For real. I’m not joking. Seriously. I really think Marco is the guy.

Remember that for Roger Penske the primary goal every year is to win the Indy 500, or should I say yet another Indy 500. Winning that race brings everything else, and taking the checkers 14 times as an owner has allowed him to pretty much write his own checks in racing. It is the goose that lays his golden eggs.

Now consider how Marco Andretti has fared in exactly three Indy 500s.

2006 - Marco was passed for the lead between the final turn and the yard of bricks, finishing 2nd at The Brickyard at only 19 years of age.

2007 - Marco brief leads a rain-filled race, crashing while battling in the Top 10 right before the race is called.

2008 - Marco again leads 15 laps before eventually falling behind Scott Dixon and Vitor Meira, lock-stepping his way to 3rd.

In three races he’s got two Top 3 finishes and has led 30 laps, all by the age of 21. And, as John Oreovicz points out, he’s quite possibly still a free agent.

Unless the team chose not to publicize it, Marco still has not re-signed with Andretti Green Racing. Many observers believe Marco will not achieve his full potential until he gets away from AGR, the team owned by his father, Michael. And what an opportunity Penske would offer to the 21-year-old! Grandfather Mario drove Indy cars for Penske from 1976-80 and would certainly endorse this career move.
I know, I know. You’re saying “Jeff, come on, we know why you’re doing this. You’ve already told us how you want to see Marco win the 500.” Yes, and thank you for mentioning that, because not only does it show you've been a frequent reader here but it’s also my next point.

Look, we’ve got a crisis on our hands with this Helio trial. One of the two most recognizable names from the series might be gone, which means we’re back to having Danica! as the primary representative of the sport. We need someone else to step up and garner some Q Ratings, and no one other than Mrs Hospenthal would bring more attention by winning at Indy than Young Marco. No offense to Vitor Meira, but if he wins it’s a week of interviews. If a guy named “Andretti” wins, it’s a lot more.

So you’ve got good driver at Indy and a marketable name – what could be better? Well, don’t forget the fact that he wouldn’t be racing for his dad anymore. The AGR team has at times turned into Comedy Central, what with Michael trying to figure out how to respond to incidents involving his son and other teammates, most notably at Infineon in ’07 and Indy in ’08. If Marco went to drive for Team Penske it would not only take away that conflict of interest, but it might also get Marco’s ever present grandfather out from hovering around and casting his long shadow over the AGR team. Allowing Michael to just be team owner and not family man on race weekends might actually add back the years to his life he’s lost watching Marco turn his cars upside-down.

And the cherry on top of this is the idea of seeing former combatants Sam Hornish Sr and Marco’s buddy Anthony Fedele chumming around at the Penske holiday party. This is such a win-win-win idea for Penske, for Marco, for Michael, and for the entire IRL that it can’t be ignored.

Unless of course you think it's completely ridiculous.

(Photo: Trackside Online)


  1. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 10:16 AM  

    I don't think Marco would fit the Penske image. He isn't good with fans and is quite the partier (and doesn't hide it). He really isn't that talented just has a famous last name. So why would RP bother?

  2. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 11:03 AM  

    When I first heard you on LFR I thought, "This guy seems intelligent, I should subscribe to his feed", but your recent posts endorsing Paul Page as a possible play-by-play announcer for Versus, and now Marco as a driver for Penske have left me doubting your judgement. Page with his overbearing, error prone, "hey I'm a racecar driver like these guys because I drive a go kart" style, and Marco with his arrogance based on bloodline, A.J. Foyt IV ability and "hey it's all about me" personality are two people that IndyCar racing would be better served without. Let Page stay with the NHRA/X Games and Marco take up a permanent residence in
    A1GP. OFishzzzzz

  3. Iannucci // November 23, 2008 11:19 AM  

    While not questioning your judgment as to whether or not I may or may not seem intelligent, I do want to note that I at no point endorsed anyone for the VS broadcast booth. I was merely noting that it seemed odd he wasn't invited by VS based on his qualifications.

    In fact, I have mentioned here months ago how I think Paul Page's style works better on radio and not TV. I don't hate the guy, but he's certainly not my first choice of announcers. He is however still popular with some people, no matter what you or I think of his work.

    I say enough stuff around here that invites criticism, so there's no need to put words in my mouth.

  4. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 11:37 AM  

    Jeff, I'm sure Rick DeBruel is "popular" with a few people too (a very odd few)... I deeply PRAY that neither return to a race booth for ANY network.

    As for Marco at Penske? I'll stand by my employment list made in the post for much better candidates. AGR at times messes with my head... I thought Rapha Matos had signed a long term deal when he agreed to enter Indy Lights... he is obviously employed at the other Penske team.

    To "anonymous": Marco is a partier? All drivers tend to explore the perks of being a driver. Plus, look at Marco's last two step Moms... the current one is an ex Playboy Playmate of the Year!

    Fame brings you a "party" & its Marco's job to win so the party can continue... :) :) :)

  5. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 11:40 AM  

    Damn... an edit button would be handy.

    ... my employment list made in the LAST post for much better candidates.

    One word makes a BIG difference!!!

  6. Jennifer Coomer // November 23, 2008 12:28 PM  

    oh jeff jeff jeff...
    *shakes head*

  7. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 12:53 PM  

    The *only* flaw I see with Marco/Penske is how rough Marco is on equipment.

    The playboy image of Marco isn't really a big deal. Roger did employ the biggest playboy in the history of our sport, Danny Sullivan's aviator sunglasses, for the better part of a decade.

    Did you know:
    - Danny Sullivan's helmet actually had aviator sunglasses embedded into the visor?

    - Without aviator frames, Danny Sullivan was actually Dennis Vitolo? Why do you think Sullivan didn't run in 1994.

  8. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 1:02 PM  

    I praise Marco for racing A1GP to improve his road racing performance. But he looks lost at ovals outside of Indiana. If Roger needs a replacement driver, it's got Justin Wilson written all over it. With fast equipment, Justin can pick up where Helio left off.

  9. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 1:02 PM  

    I have to admit, this is an interesting idea, but I really question Marco's talent. Without digging through statistics, his DNF percentage seems pretty high.

    On the other hand, I think he does need to get out of AGR. It would be good for him, and it would be good for AGR. There isn't enough room in that team for two rock stars, and I think that was pretty obvious this year.

    If Marco has the talent and is going to show it, he'd best be doing it for a team other than his father's. Let him sink or swim, but he'll gain more respect and experience doing it for someone else. Obviously, there aren't many opportunities better than Penske.

    At least at Penske, he won't have to wear that ridiculous Indiana Jones firesuit. I was afraid he would win the Indy 500 this year and that goofy thing would end up in the Hall of Fame.

  10. Zappatista // November 23, 2008 1:35 PM  

    Despite the backlash you created, you are onto to something. Marco has not been signed for next year, and "we" all assumed it was is ready to go with pops, just hadn't been done yet, well.... No one can argue that pops wouldn't want his kid driving for the Captain, and it is clear that Penske's equipment and set ups are solid. He would get paid, and have all the support in the world. He is only 21, let us not forget. The only thing that I could see as a negative, as far as Penske goes, is that would make Briscoe the elder. Helio probably set both cars up, all of the time, so you wouldn't have that knowledge of a seasoned vet to help with those things.

    All in all, I think that this could work and I think the Captain would pull the trigger.

  11. pressdog // November 23, 2008 2:02 PM  

    I don't think Penske wants the Andretti drama. If you hire Marco, I think you get Mario and Mike as part of the package. But I could be wrong. This could be a Rahal/Rahal deal where the son is better off not driving for the father. So it's an interesting idea.

  12. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 2:20 PM  

    I about dropped my laptop in shock of you suggesting this ! Stellar idea! Pressdog is very right in thinking Mario would be part of the package, but I don't think Michael would be to involved. From moderating Marco's Fanzone I've learned AGR PR keeps a tight lip on all things Marco to "protect" him. Another team might get his name out there a little more. Did anyone here know Marco filmed a Gillete commercial?-it never aired in the US ! All whining comments aside, Marco is not Michael or Mario and needs to chance to prove himself outside the realms of everyone thinking his daddy feeds him everything. Marco is very self-driven and puts a lot of pressure on himself. I think he would be a much different driver on another team, but I can also see him remaining loyal to the family name.

  13. Badgerman // November 23, 2008 5:09 PM  

    Jeff.... I think the idea of Marco driving for the Captain would be a perfect fit.... I am convinced/know that Marco has more than the road course chops require for the IRL and continues to hone these off season at both the ALMS & A1GP... While his oval skills may "appear" to be wanting, I am fairly certain that it has a great deal more to do with the lack of teamwork and the apparent dirth & dillution of the engineering talent pool that has seemed to prevail at AGR for at least the past two seasons....

  14. Badgerman // November 23, 2008 5:11 PM  
    This comment has been removed by the author.
  15. Anonymous // November 23, 2008 5:37 PM  

    Phew, that's a bit out there.

    Rahal, Panther, Newman-Haas, I can see hiring Marco.

    Penske I just can't.

  16. Anonymous // November 24, 2008 7:06 AM  


    While the Marco to Penske idea has some merit, in my opinion it would be Briscoe 2.0 all over again for The Captain.

    How so? Well, this past season Marco showed (or at least spoke via radio) that he has a HUGE sense of entitlement and he throws a lot of races away by letting his emotions get the best of him.

    In my opinion Marco needs to be stage managed. And stage managed by someone not blood-related to him.

    Penske did an excellent job doing that for Ryan Briscoe in the ALMS. Back in 2005 Ryan was more famous for his banzai move that knocked out The Princess and The Dancing King, and for trying to kill himself at Chicagoland. After a season with Penske Racing in ALMS where I'm sure Roger laid down the law to Briscoe Inferno, he scored three wins in ALMS and three wins this season in the IRL.

    Now, the questions are: 1) Would Roger be willing to be a mentor for Marco, and 2) would Marco find some humility and actually listen?

  17. Anonymous // November 24, 2008 8:47 AM  

    Hitting the egg nog a month early? Marco- what are you crazy?

    Marco woud not be in the IRL anymore if Dad and Grandpa were not bank rolling him. Marco at Penske - I think you have a better chance of seeing Marco and Eddie Cheever opening a Nascar team together.

  18. Fred Hurley // November 24, 2008 10:48 AM  

    I think a more likely scenario involving both Penske and Marco is for Justin Wilson to be signed to drive the #3, and for Marco to sign with NHLR. There's a long history there, and I doubt PLN's passing has really diminished that. It'll be tough for NHLR to find a good sponsor for Wilson, because right now, companies want an obvious path to marketing success, and a lanky Brit is, well, yeah ...

    Penske doesn't face that problem. I suspect Altria is fine with almost anyone, and I also suspect that NHLR would find it easier to put together a package for Marco than for Wilson.

    And yeah, this would have Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal as teammates. It would be interesting, if nothing else.

  19. Fred Hurley // November 24, 2008 10:52 AM  

    Oh, and I suspect NHLR would be the one team for which Marco could leave the family shop, and everyone (hi Dad and Grandpa included), would understand. He'd take over a ride in which they both have won championships.

  20. Allen Wedge // November 24, 2008 11:16 AM  

    You know maybe being the only one up at 4am watching Marco in A1GP, I have to say the Marco in A1GP is much more mature than the one we've seen in the ICS past.

    He made a mistake, apologized, thanked all the teams that helped them with parts to be able to compete in the feature race, and then worked hard to come back for 3rd place in that race. Then after the races he was genuinely happy and even said "I'm having a lot of fun, I hope they let me do all these races"

    That's a much matured Marco and one that I think we'd all love to see in ICS, even if still at AGR.

    I think Marco/Penske would be a good option. Marco would get separated from his dad and to be honest also separate from Danica which I think would be a good thing; and would easily get guidance he isn't getting now... from Rick Mears, he'd could also become more result driven.

    For all the naysayers you need no more proof than what Penske was able to do with Briscoe these past few years.

  21. Jesse // November 24, 2008 11:55 AM  

    I also am enjoying watching Marco in A1GP, he's showing a much more humble, mature side that many ICS fans would like to see.

    (aside: watching rolling starts by international drivers is worth staying up until 3 or 4 am, hard to blame Marco for that incident)

    Anyway, I guess I just want to remind everyone that he's 21 years old. I think we all remember being a little hot headed or immature at 21, and I think growing up in the Penske family would create an excellent race car driver out of Marco.

    To those saying he has no talent or is simply being bankrolled by dad is to say that anyone in an AGR machine could automatically compete in the top ten in the championship and in the top three in May. That is simply not true.

  22. Anonymous // November 24, 2008 12:10 PM  

    At least at Penske, he won't have to wear that ridiculous Indiana Jones firesuit. I was afraid he would win the Indy 500 this year and that goofy thing would end up in the Hall of Fame. -Travis

    :) :) :) Damn! Well said Travis... I'm glad I was not the only person thinking this. It's obvious drivers don't always have approval on some of the $$$ decisions

    Marco's A1GP results (in a higher HP car?) were quite impressive. His humility (thanking his crew for the strong back-up car & the Korean team for the use of their spare rear wing) was a positive sign of his maturity?

  23. Anonymous // November 24, 2008 3:00 PM  

    An interesting possibility, perhaps, though I think probably a remote one.

    Marco might better be suited for NHLR or RLR where he would be the main attraction instead of the latest in a long line at Penske.

    I suspect that if the economy continues to slide, Penske's NASCAR efforts will be curtailed somewhat. If so, I could easily foresee a similar situation happening with Sam Hornish, Jr., as happened with Dario Franchitti.

    Unless something changes VERY quickly, that won't happen until 2010 at the earliest, so what the Captain may be seeking would be a 1 year seat filler.

    Knowing how much Indy means to them both, would anyone consider a 1 year deal for Al Unser, Jr. and (insert road racer here.)

  24. Anonymous // November 24, 2008 9:02 PM  

    Skip: Penske's NASCAR $$$ is much more stable than the Chipster!

    Miller Brewing (#2)
    Alltel (#12)
    Mobil 1 (Sam's #77)

    Everybody is signed up for long term deals... Mobil 1's parent company, Exxon Mobil has been clearing about 10-12 BILLION... QUARTERLY!!!!!!!!! I think Sam is in NASCAR as long as Roger wants him there.

  25. Anonymous // November 26, 2008 7:55 AM  

    Yo Jeff...Definitely not questioning your intelligence, and I stand corrected on the Paul Page as VS play-by-play guy comment. Nice to know that I'm not the only one who won't miss his Little Caesar haircut. Definitely keeping you on my RSS feed list, and looking forward to your inciteful commentary. Happy Thanksgiving. OFishzzzzz