Plan B for Penske

Posted by Iannucci | 11/17/2008 | 12 comments »
Bookmark and Share

As you may have read elsewhere (you really should be reading is it May yet? daily right now), on Friday the judge in the Taxman v Helio trial gave a big thumbs down to the defendant’s request for delay. The current start date of March 2nd will stand, meaning that until about a month before the season Roger Penske will either be sitting on pins and needles hoping against a 90-plus percentage federal conviction rate hope that Helio emerges from the throes of justice unscathed, or The Captain must soon go about the business of planning 2009 with a different driver in the #3.

Yes friends, it’s now time we all get our brains around this: no matter what, Helio will probably not be driving for Penske next year. Heck, if he gets convicted he may never race again. Let’s all take a deep breath, hold it, grab that wastebasket, and if you must go ahead and vomit the contents of your stomach.

The most appealing solution would be Commissioner Penske to switch on the bat signal, beckoning Sam Hornish Jr from his cave in Defiance, Ohio. It’s too bad Sam and other drivers don’t have their own music of choice played during driver introductions, because the only hope of turning even a temporary loss of Helio into something positive would be to hear Jack Arute or whoever on the opening broadcast shouting in their best Jim Ross, “No! It can’t Be! That’s Sam Hornish Jr’s music! What’s HE doing HERE?”

(OK, I admit to listening to too many Live Fast Racing podcasts. So sue me.)

Unfortunately reality is a lot more boring than that, as Sam has repeatedly said that no matter how much he, uh, struggles in stock cars he’s having a blast and he isn’t coming back to the IRL. So this means The Captain will probably have to go find another driver to replace an otherwise irreplaceable one. There are obviously a lot of “good” drivers out there without jobs, but this is Team Penske where winning in dominant fashion is the goal. Team Penske can put a winning car on the track, they just need a driver who’s comfortable with winning. To that end, allow your humble host to offer a few suggestions for who might best fit this opening.

Seabastien Bourdais – Current Formula One driver (well, maybe), SeaBass kick all kinds of tail in the former Champ CART entity to the tune of four straight championships. We’re talking about a guy who in those four years won 28 of 55 races – that’s INSANE! Plus, having a French guy with ultra Euro glasses would send old school Penske haters to a whole new level.

Lance Armstrong – Seven time consecutive Tour de France champion knows how to turn a wheel in the biggest of events. If you can do a month in France then you can do a month in Indy. As a bonus, folks at the VERSUS network are already familiar with his work and have innumerable “packages” at the ready.

Ronaldinho World-class footballer (read: “soccer player”) has won titles wherever he’s played, proving he’s quite adept at two-hour sporting events that often are utterly boring and without action. Can anyone be better prepared for racing at Infini-yawn? More than anything though he’s Brazilian, which we know has to count for something. I mean, they grow championship-caliber drivers on trees down there.

Julienne Hough – This two-time winner of Dancing With the Stars worked intently with Helio to bring out the best dancer in his pedal-pushing feet. Perhaps, if he’s not incarcerated, Helio could return the favor. She could be just as huge, if not huge-er(?), than Danica, and she’s only got one less win. Bonus points for the sassy, sparkling firesuit potential.

Tiger Woods – I can’t think of a better way to rehab and injured knee than to take some time off by sitting down for a whole year. The guy is as proven a winner as there can be, and if you’ve ever suffered through a golf telecast – and goodness knows U.S. IndyCar fans have had races pre-empted by plenty of them – then you know he certainly has the vocabulary required of a race car driver.

Speed Racer – If you want a young driver with potential than this kid is the benchmark. I’m not sure what his contract status is with his current team, but if this guy can successfully navigate the Casa Cristo then Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio should be a total walk in the park. Maybe Team Penske could even build auto jacks and rotary saws into their cars.


  1. The American Mutt // November 17, 2008 10:45 AM  

    No offense to the 07 talking point, but Sam can't turn right. He's terrible. Take away his podium (which he got by a dirty pass), and the mans average finish on twisties is roughly the same as it was the year before. You can watch him struggle in the tin tops or struggle on the roads, but either way you'd be watching Sam struggle.

  2. Iannucci // November 17, 2008 10:48 AM  

    Mutt? Where ya been!

  3. TheDuke // November 17, 2008 11:10 AM  

    I understand that Troy Bayliss is available and enjoyes the US.

    52 wins and 94 podiums in 150 starts, could be good

  4. Fred Hurley // November 17, 2008 11:10 AM  

    Realistically, if Penske has to replace Helio with another driver before, say, Christmas, it's likely to be Hunter-Reay, Wilson, Power, or maybe Servia. He needs someone familiar with IndyCar equipment, someone who can win on a road course, and someone with enough savvy on ovals to be competitive, and potentially win Indy if circumstances dictate. I think SeaBass is actually an interesting option, and one that most people have ignored, because it's too easy to assume that if he comes back, it'll be with Newman Haas. That said, I really do think Bourdais gets one more shot in F1, and unless it's with Force India, he'll take it.

    One X-Factor: If Penske thinks Helio will likely only miss 2009 (say he has reason to believe there will be minimal jail time at worst, and Helio will be allowed to remain in the US), then he might go with someone like Junqueira or Servia for the year. Neither is likely a long-term answer in the #3, but both would have the car competitive, and both would be up to speed very quickly.

    So you heard it here first - Junqueira in the #3 Penske at St. Pete!

  5. Johnny // November 17, 2008 11:17 AM  

    *wipes away a manly tear at that mention*

  6. Anonymous // November 17, 2008 12:04 PM  

    I'm putting my money on Rubens in the #3 in '09. I know in some snow covered race track Roger is getting ready to test him and take Honda's money before he jumps ship in 2010 with a Penske Porsche IRL deal.

    Hey it's the time of year to wish for Tiny Tim to toss away his crutches and walk...isn't?

    Rubens #3 in '09

  7. The SpeedGeek // November 17, 2008 12:58 PM  

    A few thoughts (not that anybody asked):

    1) There's no such thing as listening to "too many Live Fast Podcasts". I'd listen to one every three or four days if I could. Get on that, fellas. ;)

    2) Sam really ought to come back. The stats show that he had 3 top-20 finishes in 34 starts in Cup this year, with a best finish of 13th at the semi-chaotic Coke 600 (plus two races late in the season where he DNQ'd). That's not even a mediocre season, even by rookie standards. True, he's not very good on the road courses, but if he knew where his bread is most likely to get buttered (yuck, bad metaphor there), he'd be calling Roger right now in order to start testing the IndyCar again.

    3) Rubens is an interesting idea, as he's had a long time personal sponsorship deal with Phillip Morris. In his junior formula days and up until he started driving for Stewart (that's Jackie, not Tony), he always had an extra large Marlboro patch on the back of his firesuits.

    4) I'm not so sure that Toro Rosso is going to give SeaBass another go next year. They've got a terrible tendency already to get rid of guys when they're just coming up to speed (see Luizzi and Mr. Speed himself).

    5) As much fun as it'd be to see either of those last two guys in the #3, I think it'll be RHR. He had a great season in sub-Big 3 equipment this year, he's young and marketable and, best of all, Roger could probably wrap him up on a long term contract for a fraction of the cost of a Rubens or a Bourdais.

    6) Last one, I swear. Anybody else think that maybe the #3 Penske car has a bit of a curse on it? I believe that Gonzalo Rodriguez died in that car, it was the car that Greg Moore was slated to drive, and now Helio's "problems"? I just know that if Roger called me to drive that car (believe me, I'm waiting by the phone), I might consider trying to convince him to trade numbers with Panther or something.

  8. Iannucci // November 17, 2008 1:51 PM  

    My inner Donald Davidson has to point out that the number "3" has won the Indy 500 more times (10) than any other number. I'm certain that's a curse Penske can live with.

  9. Fred Hurley // November 17, 2008 2:02 PM  

    I still think that some time in January, Helio is going to cut a deal that involves a ton of fines, and 30 days in jail to be served prior to March 1, and that stipulates that he can remain and work in the US. The tricky part is that if Penske has been forced to find an alternate by that point, Helio becomes an intriguing last-minute free agent.

  10. Jennifer Coomer // November 17, 2008 4:29 PM  

    *I* *HATE* *THIS* *!* *!* *!* *!*

  11. Pat W // November 17, 2008 5:11 PM  

    Bourdais isn't going back to the US to race unless he's in a Peugeot for Sebring and Petit.

    Personally I think he'll get another season (half season?) at Toro Rosso before going to Peugeot.

    I vote RHR for the Penske seat!

  12. The American Mutt // November 17, 2008 6:03 PM  


    Throwing myself into many things outside the net. It seems that when one graduates college one winds up with an abudnance of free time. Is almost thirty too old to take up skateboarding...I'll get back to you.