By April Furst, Staff Writer
In what certainly has to be the most ambitious announcement in racing history, Team Penske announced that not one, but two, of their drivers will attempt the Indy-Charlotte Double on Memorial Day Weekend.
Monster Energy NASCAR Series regular, Brad Keselowski and Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Josef Newgarden will attempt to qualify for, and compete in, both the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte scheduled for May 28, 2017.
Both drivers will be sponsored by MillerCoors and all four cars will carry Miller Lite branding. Miller Lite has planned a massive marketing and social media campaign they are calling the “#Miller2Crew 1100” to promote the event. Both Keselowski and Newgarden will carry the Number 2 on their regular rides, and the 02 on their unfamiliar cars.
The two Penske drivers will join a list of drivers that includes Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and John Andretti in the feat that has become known as Double-Duty Sunday. Because Team Penske operates both its NASCAR and Indycar teams out of the same facility in Mooresville, NC, the travel logistics and planning will be handled by the same group. This however, makes this massive undertaking no less impressive, should they pull it off.
“I was initially hesitant when this was first brought up,” said Tim Cindric, President of Penske Racing. “Josef is in his first year with our team, and Indycars really need to be his primary focus. It may have made more sense to do this with Juan (Montoya) who has quite a bit of NASCAR experience, but the Miller folks wanted Josef.”
“Brad is certainly up to the task, and he’s locked into the playoffs,” continued Cindric. “However, we already have five cars committed for the 500, and a sixth entry puts a real strain on the resources. However, when I look at the benefit to the sport as a whole, with the attention that this will draw, it far outweighs the challenges put before us.”
Both drivers will be assigned a coach within the team to help them get up to speed in the unfamiliar cars. Newgarden will work closely with 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano during private testing to become familiar with the stock car. Keselowski will spend his testing time with Helio Castroneves, who has three Indy 500 wins to his credit.
Rumors about Keselowski attempting the double have been brewing since he hopped into Simon Pagenaud’s car for several laps at Road America during a private test, but the Newgarden announcement was out of left field.
“This kind of fell into my lap,” said Newgarden, who hails from Hendersonville, TN. “I hadn’t thought about this possibility, but when the folks from Miller Lite brought it up, I couldn’t say no. Well, I knew Roger (Penske) could say no, so I didn’t really push for it. After some heated team meetings, we all agreed to go forward with this. I’m just stoked right now. I love a challenge.”
“This is going to be a lot of work, but in the end, it will be incredible,” added Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Cup Champion. “There is probably only one organization in all of racing that could make this work, and that is Team Penske. We have such a dedicated group of folks here that I am confident that both Josef and I will make history together.”
Roger Penske, who celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, said, “Yes, its ambitious, but dammit, I needed to get this done before Chip (Ganassi) beat me to the punch.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” added Penske. “APRIL FOOLS!”