Roger Penske’s Folly

By Brody Jones

Make no mistake about this: Roger Penske is one of the sharpest minds and one of the most shrewd businessmen in the world of motorsports. He has won countless Indy Car championships, has a burdgeoning truck rental business, and even owned his own automobile company at one time. But even the best businessmen have their occasional folly or hiccup. And in the world of NASCAR, the biggest head-scratcher is how in the world could Roger Penske shunt aside the future of NASCAR in Justin Allgaier and Parker Kligerman in favor of Sam Hornish Jr., whose stint in NASCAR has been absolutely abysmal? Many in the garage area and in the stands have been baffled and confounded by the fact that Roger Penske ditched two young talented drivers, both of whom fit the Penske mold perfectly, for a driver who has been more well-known for seemingly bringing out at least one caution flag every other race?
Two years ago, Justin Allgaier seemed to be the darling of the Penske organization. People pointed to him as the next big thing and Roger Penske was firmly in his corner. Even back at Bristol when Allgaier got his first win, the Captain couldn’t stop singing the praises of his talented wunderkind. All seemed well in their union. But a few months later, Penske dropped a bombshell by announcing Verizon was not coming back and Allgaier was free to look for another ride. It seemed to many in the motorsports fraternity that Justin Allgaier was destined for stardom, but he got hit with a curveball and his career seemed to be derailed. Thankfully, Steve Turner of Turner Motorsports jumped at the chance to bring Allgaier onto his fledgling team and at least Allgaier was saved the horrible fate of so many other young and talented drivers.
As for Parker Kligerman, the youngster practically came out of nowhere in the 2009 season in the ARCA Racing Series to very nearly win the series championship for Cunningham Motorsports and even won a pole in his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start. Now, while the early parts of his 2010 campaign were pock-marked with a rash of failures to qualify, in the second half of the season, under the guidance of Chris Carrier in less-than-quality equipment, Kligerman started turning heads with a few top 10 finishes in the Nationwide Series and a great run in his Truck Series debut for Brad Keselowski Racing. But due to Penske inexplicably keeping Hornish around, Kligerman has a less-than-certain future. He does have a ride lined up according to his Facebook page that he is set to run the first 15 to 20 Camping World Truck Series races for Brad Keselowski Racing, but by no means is there a guarantee he will get a full-season in the truck.
Looking strictly at the numbers, they only further strengthen the thought process that perhaps Roger Penske has made a colossal blunder. While Sam Hornish Jr. has been an IndyCar legend with 19 career wins and 3 titles to his credit, his NASCAR stats have been disappointing, to say the least. In 129 NASCAR starts, he doesn’t have a win in a points race, only two top 5′s and nine top 10′s. Compare this to Allgaier, with 82 career NASCAR starts, 1 win, 11 top 5′s, and 32 top 10′s with 3 poles along with Kligerman, who in 15 NASCAR races has a pole and 3 top 10′s, which is more impressive considering the fact that he was in less than ideal equipment. The numbers do not lie on whom Penske should have kept. The only two motives one can even fathom as to why Penske kept Hornish Jr. over Kligerman and Allgaier amounts to either the Captain giving Hornish one last chance or his Indy 500 win doing more for Hornish in terms of his marketability.
However, one cannot entirely make Hornish out to be the scapegoat completely. Penske apparently has had a lot of money invested in Sam Hornish Jr. and, make no mistake, his IndyCar track record has been nothing short of stellar. But in NASCAR, he’s seemingly never quite been able to adapt to the degree of open-wheel drivers such as Tony Stewart, Juan Pablo Montoya, or, to an extent, AJ Allmendinger. At 31 years of age, Hornish could get back in the IndyCar Series and almost instantaneously provide that series with the shot in the arm it desperately needs. But, to give Hornish credit, he geniunely seems as if he wants to succeed in NASCAR and is willing to work as hard as he can to make that happen. But, at some point, Roger Penske has to wonder if perhaps he should have just kept Hornish in IndyCar Racing.