Penske Racing Team Media Conference
Topics: Penske Racing, Automobile Club of Southern California
March 20, 2012
MERRILL CAIN: Thanks, and welcome to this special Penske Racing media teleconference. I'm Merrill Cain with Penske Racing, and thanks for dialing in to today's call.
Many of you saw the announcement earlier today that the Auto Club is extending its partnership with Penske Racing through the 2016 racing season, and as a result we're excited to report that the Auto Club will continue to sponsor Penske Racing cars competing in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup series as well as the IZOD IndyCar Series.
We're happy to welcome to the call today four featured guests who can speak about today's announcement and the relationship between Penske Racing and the Auto Club. Let's continue introductions. We're joined this afternoon by A.J. Allmendinger, driver of the No.22 Auto Club Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Helio Castroneves, driver of the No.3 Auto Club Team Penske Chevrolet Dallara in the IZOD IndyCar Series; Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing; and John McQueen, manager of motorsports and sports marketing for the Auto Club. Thanks for joining us on the call today.
We'll start off by getting some quick comments from all of our guests and open it up for questions from the media. Tim, we'll start with you. It's great to announce an extension of the partnership with the Auto Club, and if you could talk a little bit about what this relationship means overall to the Penske Racing organization.
TIM CINDRIC: Thanks, Merrill, and on behalf of Roger and the entire Penske organization, I'd like to thanks everybody for calling in today. As Merrill said, for the Penske organization to have the caliber of commitment and the partnership that we have with AAA on and off the racetrack, to be able to announce this extension over the next five years is a great platform for us going forward, and to have A.J. and Helio really spearheading this whole program with AAA has helped.
Certainly it's our job to put them in the winner's circle this year, and we'll get three opportunities in the Cup Series as a primary sponsor and two as a co‑primary sponsor, and Helio will get four shots at it this year versus the two that we had last year.
So I think that it is something that really helps us build our organization in the future, and it builds on the relationship that we've had with AAA on the Penske Truck Leasing front as well as dating all the way back to the California Speedway days of Roger's ownership there at the track.
MERRILL CAIN: A.J., obviously this is your first year with Penske Racing and your first season that you'll be associated with the Auto Club. Just like to ask you what it's like for you to become part of this established partnership.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, for me I'm very excited to have the opportunity. This weekend at Fontana will be my first weekend to be able to carry the colors and just everything about the company that I've been able to be around so far has just been very pleasant, very exciting. Obviously they've got a rich history in racing in general and with the Penske organization. So to be a part of that for me is an honor, and I'm excited and hopefully going to Fontana this weekend we can go out there and keep building on strong runs and the momentum that we've at least started to build over the last couple weeks with the speed that we've shown and obviously Brad winning last week at Bristol. It would be fun to go to Fontana, first race with the Auto Club and first opportunity to go out there and win for them.
MERRILL CAIN: Helio, you had the opportunity to drive the Auto Club IndyCar last season and you got a chance to do some work for the club, including appearing in one of those public service safety announcements last year. Talk about your experiences with the Auto Club and what you're looking forward to this season.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you, Merrill. Certainly being part of the family, AAA family, it was nice, and I actually was very excited personally to meet Mr.McQueen and Wendy, as well. They were fantastic, made me feel really cool and really comfortable wearing the AAA colors, and this year now we're going to extend some of the race‑‑ extend a little bit the races, Barber, Long Beach, Texas, and obviously Fontana, where everything started. It's great to be racing their racetrack with the colors, and using the same words as A.J., hopefully we're going to go back there, as well. It's been a long time, and we're going to go back there and hopefully celebrate with a win, as well.
MERRILL CAIN: John McQueen with the Auto Club, if you could just talk about why this partnership makes sense for AAA and why was it important for you guys to extend this relationship.
JOHN McQUEEN: Well, as Tim already mentioned, the Auto Club and AAA have a long relationship with Penske predating the racing relationship, and when we started the program with Penske Racing in 2008, we've been seeing very strong results from it from an activation perspective. We use the platform specifically to market insurance but also as a platform for other advocacy messaging and other programs that benefit our members directly.
We tested the waters a little bit last year as Helio mentioned at a couple races, and got very strong results in the IndyCar environment, as well, so it made a lot of sense to expand that to a couple of other events that fall within our footprint for our club, and we look forward to integrating the IndyCar piece more into our overall motorsports activation program.
The bottom line on all this is through our relationship with Penske Corporation and the racing organization, there are a lot of benefits that our members directly see, whether it's discounts or access or the advocacy messaging as I mentioned before. So we look forward to expanding on the successful program that we've had for three years. This is our fourth year with Penske. Looking forward to seeing both you guys, A.J. this weekend and next weekend with Helio in Alabama.
MERRILL CAIN: We'll open it up and take some questions from the media.
Q. Just a question to both drivers: A relationship with people like AAA, can it be a lot of fun, or can it be a bit of a pain sometimes with the commitment, or do you guys really enjoy these sponsor type relationships?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, in my case, I've been with Team Penske for a long time, and the relationship you create with our partners, certainly it's not a pain. You create a good relationship. We're becoming friends, believe it or not. We cry together, we celebrate together, and certainly Roger after all these years has been able to implement the business‑to‑business situation, which is a win‑win to everyone.
So for us, the drivers, it's great, because we start meeting new people, create also opportunities, and it's part of our job. So I don't see that in a negative way. Actually I see that in a good way. So today partners like AAA are extremely important in racing teams, and it's not very common to have a sponsor extending five more years, for example, in this scenario. So we're really proud. I feel honored to be wearing the Team Penske shirt and even more honored to wear the AAA shirt, so for me at least it's great.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I think for me, I came up through a time through Champ Car and my first couple years in Cup where I would have died to have a series sponsor to where the branding and being able to go out there and meet the company, meet the people, get the message points out and do all of the things that go along with having a great sponsor. Since coming here to the Penske organization, to be able to have not just one but a multitude of sponsors that want you to go out and be the face of the company and do everything that comes along with that for me has been really exciting because there was times I would have died to do that.
So it's been really good, and for me, with my first year with AAA and the Auto Club, just to be able to learn the company and see what it's all about and just be a part of it to me is something that's exciting, and hopefully I can be a part of it for a long time.
Q. Helio, you seemed very determined during testing to turn around a poor year for yourself last year. And A.J., can you catch Brad on the track and out‑tweet him one day?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I don't think I'll ever catch him on tweeting, I can promise you that. He's definitely the man when it comes to that.
And on the racetrack, I think it's great, last week, for the company to have a victory. Obviously we showed speed from Friday on. We've done that over the last couple weeks. And I think for me just working with Todd Gordon really to get working with this race team, I mean, it's only our fourth week, and the good thing is we have the speed, and we've just got to put it all together. It takes time, and people forget that Brad and Paul Wolf, they had a year together in the Nationwide Series and really took a good four months during the season to really get going last year.
The good thing is we're showing that we have fast race cars, and for myself and Todd and everybody on the 22 team, we've just got to gel together and put everything together and hopefully that starts this weekend.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: A.J., I think you can catch him. Don't sell yourself short on the Twitter. You're going to get there. Come on, man.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I don't bring my phone in the car. I can't catch him.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's okay, you'll get there. I can feel that.
But anyway, for me, certainly I feel great in 2012 with new fresh equipment, certainly a new Chevy engine, which is extremely exciting to be honest to have the new engine, working with the engineers not only on the engine side but on the race car. So I am determined, I am pumped, but at the same time I've got to do a simple math here. I'm not good at math, but even I can figure it out. When you don't finish‑‑ in 17 races you finish only seven races, also, you're not going to have a good result in the championship.
So for me it's be more consistent obviously. Now the rules are pretty much set and done, so I'm ready.
I can't wait to be in St.Pete. We're going to be extremely excited wearing the colors of Shell‑Pennzoil, and then we're going to Barber obviously with the AAA colors, and from there we're going to just keep looking ahead.
Q. For both guys if I could. Penske has a rare setup in the Charlotte area with a huge shop that houses both IndyCar and NASCAR teams. Can you both comment on how or if that helps or boosts your confidence?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I think for a driver, every time that there is an accident or something that's not working out together, you've just got to step back sometimes, even if you're just trying to push too hard, you'll just get things worse. In my case‑‑ drivers know when you're pushing the limit or when you're trying too hard. You've just got to tune down a little bit, which everything you like‑‑ when you're trying to get something too hard, it makes it harder for you to get that thing.
So for me, I feel this year certainly with all the new things that we have for 2012, certainly it's a great way, especially in the testing, when you have good testing the team is running strong, not only myself but the other two cars, as well, we feel that we're really pumped. We've just got to control, manage that excitement, and hopefully first race of the season is going to be good for us.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, for me obviously the Charlotte area being the hub of NASCAR and a lot of race teams, I think that the biggest thing for me since coming to the Penske organization is just everything that is available to me being here. The gym, being able to come out and work out with a trainer every day, which no matter what, brings me to the race shop. So whether I have something to go talk to Todd Gordon or the race team, the guys, I get to see them every day, so that to me is something that is important and at other race teams I haven't had in the past. That's been a big deal, to be at the shop every day, whether it's working with the crew or working out, things like that.
Having everything under one roof is kind of cool, being able to see guys like Ryan Briscoe and Will and Helio when they're here, to be a part of a race team that for me is my background, having an open wheel background, is fun to be around, especially like Will and Ryan when I raced against them in Champ Car and to be able to see them now when they're here is something that's been cool.
Q. And for Helio, you get to take your sponsor into the St.Petersburg area this week. Could you comment a little bit about that event and the town and how they really set it up for that particular race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I mean, St.Pete is a beautiful area. In fact, every time we come out there, people really welcome us, and we feel really comfortable in that place.
Certainly this year, as I said, we're going to be wearing the colors of Shell‑Pennzoil, and we're extremely excited to start the season. It seems that they create a very strong base out there. Everybody kind of understands, and when the promoters do a good job, I think the track and the town will really promote itself.
I recommend you to go, because I guarantee you're going to have a great time. If not in the race, you're going to have a great time on the beach.
Q. And if I could, one more comment maybe about your team, working with your team on a street course like that. Street courses aren't exactly the norm for racing.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the good thing about IZOD IndyCar is we are able to race everywhere, believe me. When you put up a street course like St.Pete, which by the way it's a very good one, and unique because you not only use part of the downtown but you also run a little bit through the airport, so it's kind of like‑‑ I think it's pretty cool to have that straightaway which creates a great opportunity for passing. But at the same time you have a great‑‑ very tough corners through downtown.
I think that's the beauty of IndyCar Series. You're able to mount a racetrack, and we're racers, we love that type of stuff. So just go ahead and have fun.
Q. Helio, since I haven't had a chance to ask you yet, do you feel like your Chevrolet program is a little bit ahead at this point relative to the road and the street circuit?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, Chevy is doing an incredible job. Yes, I feel very confident going ahead. I'm not sure what the others are doing, but I know Chevy is putting a lot of effort, a lot of work, so extremely proud of my guys in the shop to put a great car, as well. At this point we feel really, really strong.
But again, competition is always what drives us. I know the rest of the other manufacturers will be strong, but we're focused and we know what we have in our job. The rest of it is outside of our control.
Q. Is it the most unpredictable season we've seen? Is that fair to say?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it will be unpredictable. Certainly having a new car, even though we tested a fair amount, I still think it's going to be‑‑ we're going to a place that you don't know how the tires are going to hold up with this car. Hopefully you know the engines, I'm talking about all of them in general, if you'll be able to sustain everything.
But with the technology that we have today, especially Chevy, we're pretty confident that we're going to go without any issues, and I feel pretty strong.
Q. John, if you could just kind of talk about, I know there's some new plans in place for the partnership between Penske Racing and the Auto Club for 2012. Can you talk about those a little bit.
JOHN McQUEEN: Well, I don't know so much if they're new plans as much as more of an extension or kind of building on what we've been doing over the last three years, three seasons. But A.J.‑‑ I don't know if somebody mentioned this, but A.J. is going to be making his debut in a new insurance commercial for us this weekend. Only viewers in California or Texas will see the spot, but A.J. came out here a few weeks ago, and I think he had a chance to see the spot. But we have a great new insurance spot featuring A.J. that is a little humorous, sort of a dry insurance spot, but we're looking forward to showing that. There will be more of that to come. The Penske drivers have been great in sort of acting as spokespeople for us an our advocacy messaging, and also, as I mentioned before, Helio has appeared in a public service announcement regarding DUI, and we're going to be doing more of that as we go along.
I don't know the exact timing of when our next PSAs will be produced and shown, but that is in the schedule.
Also, we activate very heavily around both‑‑ well, we have around the NASCAR program, not only through the electronic media but at track, as well. Of course we're entitling the NASCAR race this weekend at Auto Club Speedway and the Auto Club 400, and we'll be onsite in a major way interacting with our members and fans in general at the track.
We also entitle an event in Texas, the AAA Texas 500 in November, but we also activated events in Kansas and New Hampshire throughout the year, and the Penske team is centered to what we do onsite at those events.
And then we will be following that same model with the IndyCar events. As Helio mentioned there are the four that we will be doing in 2012, we will be following that same model with a pretty extensive on‑track activation at those. So again, the success that we've seen‑‑ our primary goal of this is to build awareness and usage of our insurance products, and the plans both in IndyCar and NASCAR both proved very effective for that. The audience is receptive to it and the drivers have been very gracious and helpful in helping us get that message across.
We're just going to build on that success, and the reason for the long extension, the five‑year extension, is it ain't broke, so why fix it. We're really looking forward to‑‑ the five‑year extension gives us a good base to build on. We know where we're going for the next five years.
Q. Helio, can you hell us what the mood is among the drivers starting this year after the very sad ending at Las Vegas last year and the loss of Dan? You're an elder statesman really of the series. Have you discussed with perhaps the younger drivers just the necessity of being smart and fast but just giving the race time to settle down before everyone gets a little crazy?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: At this point I think everybody‑‑ when we went to the spring training, we're very busy, everybody working to take the pictures and talk about it. Certainly Dan won't be forgotten. We certainly know what happened, and those things we've got to learn, and also that hopefully we cannot have it again. Although we know Motorsports is a dangerous sport, we know the risk, but we love it. And for us, for the drivers, we are actually focused in work. So for me at least, it makes me feel comfortable, back at a place I feel comfortable. But certainly I'm sure we're going to have a tribute for Wheldon, especially in the town he called home. All these things certainly will be part of the program.
But at this point, I'm just putting my head into the work that we need to do, and again, we've just got to keep moving forward. And again, I have to give an incredible credit for Randy Bernard for all the things and the change and looks like the drivers' voice is being heard a little bit more. But at this point as a group, not only as a driver but I think as an IndyCar Series, everybody is tied together. We want to grow. I think in my personal opinion, IndyCar Series, we will be growing especially with more stuff coming up in the next few years.
Right now I'm just excited at the start of the season. I want to start the season. I think everybody feels the same way. And with that, the rest of it will come natural.
Q. They were mentioning commercials. Can you explain what it's like for a driver to become an actor?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I see a lot of other drivers, including NASCAR, IndyCars, I see some impressive acting there. I tend to be more good in my seat, I guess.
But you know, I like it. Certainly my experience with AAA last year, a little bit with the Shell‑Pennzoil, as well, was great. We just finished doing a commercial with Verizon. I think we're just doing it more. It's becoming more natural. Hopefully we can do it again. Like I said, I was supposed to do some commercial. Fortunately because of the testing we had to cancel, so A.J. ended up taking advantage with AAA and Shell‑Pennzoil.
But I'm sure we're going to have an opportunity to do it, and you'll be the judge of that. You'll tell me if I'm a good actor or not.
Q. A.J., when is it going to be your turn here?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Hopefully this weekend. That would be a great start to the relationship with AAA and Auto Club. I mean, I think for me it's about gelling. The best thing that we have is we have fast race cars, and that's been‑‑ we've shown that at Vegas, we've shown that at Bristol, which are honestly racetracks that I've never been that great at, and to be able to run up front has been a good thing.
Mr.Penske and everybody keeps telling me, be patient. I'm not very good at being patient. We're getting there, though, and it's been a rough start to the season when it comes from result wise, but the best thing I can say is we have speed in the race cars, and both Brad and I showed that last weekend. It was good for the team to get a victory. Hopefully it's this weekend. I've always liked Auto Club Speedway and I've always like Fontana as a whole, going back to California. That's where I'm from, so I'll have some family out there and it'll be fun to really start this relationship off right and hopefully keep building on it. The results don't show, but we are building on a lot of great things, so hopefully we can continue that this weekend.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: My money is on you, A.J.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Thanks, Helio. How much you putting on me?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: One buck.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: One dollar. You wouldn't even take me out for lunch when we were out last time, so that's cool.
Q. Helio, you've been stuck on 25 wins for over a year now. How much motivation is that for you to catch up to Will Power, Dario, those guys that are knocking off wins on a regular basis?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, Will Power is still behind me. Let's make that official here.
But the point is, very, I've been stuck on 25. I agree. Thanks for reminding that. I certainly don't like that. I want to increase that. But again, we can't make that as a problem. At the end of the day, you know you want to win a race, but you want to win a championship, as well, and hopefully that's going to be our goal, and hopefully that's what we're going to accomplish. It motivates me a lot. Every year that I don't get, I get very upset.
But you've got to turn around. You've got to not be frustrated. You've got to just go out there and find ways to put yourself in that position. Like I said, last year, unfortunately, when you're four or five laps down, you don't put yourself in that position to win a race. So we've just got to‑‑ you've just got to reset the button, everything, and start all over again.
That's why it's great to have a new car, new engine, because it just gives you opportunities like that so that you are‑‑ especially the team that we have‑‑ to find things to put an opportunity. When you get an opportunity to win it, for yourself to win, the rest comes naturally, and that's what we're going to do this year.
Q. We've got five or six weeks before Indianapolis begins. Any concerns you have at this point relative to the oval, race car? Not yours in particular but the series as a whole?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, good question, because believe it or not, I have not tried the car on the oval yet. Our first test is going to be May 7 in Texas. So right now I am not concerned at all. I'm not even thinking about that. I'm thinking about those three races before Indianapolis.
The good news that we have kind of a week of testing, so we're going to be practicing and getting used to this new format. Right now I have no clue about how the car feels, how the car handles, and what's going to be. So I'm just going to focus on the three street courses first and then the rest will come with time.
TIM CINDRIC: I appreciate the question. Thanks, Helio, for your perspective.
The best way I can put it to is I am concerned not because of what we know but because of what we don't know. Obviously we had a brief test some time ago at Indianapolis with this car, and I think we had limited running both at Texas and Fontana. But none of those tests have been in the specification in which we'll race, the ovals or Indianapolis. So I think the unknown is what is most concerning, especially going into the month of May with it being the first oval that we race. That always makes it a challenge for us for sure.
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