Friday, May 11, 2007
Penske knows landing Dale Jr. a longshot
By Terry Blount
INDIANAPOLIS -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. might want to give Roger Penske a call.
Penske said Friday that he has an interest in adding Dale Earnhardt Jr. to his Nextel Cup team, but he realizes it isn't likely to happen.
"Certainly we'd like to talk to him," Penske said. "Obviously, he's one of the top drivers in the sport. But from everything I've heard, he wants to say in a Chevrolet. We have a contract with Dodge and we're loyal to that."
Even here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the day before Indy 500 pole day, Earnhardt Jr. is a big topic.
Penske is hoping to win his 15th Indianapolis 500 as a team owner. He has a two-car IndyCar Series team with Sam Hornish Jr., last year's winner, and Helio Castroneves, a two-time Indy 500 winner.
But Penske also has a two-car Cup team with Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman. Cup team owners are allowed to have four cars, so Penske has the space to add Earnhardt.
Penske also is a team owner with the money to make a serious bid for Earnhardt's services. Forbes magazine recently listed Penske's net worth at $2.2 billion.
Penske said he wasn't surprised when Earnhardt announced Thursday he was leaving Dale Earnhardt Inc.
"I think we saw this coming for several weeks," Penske said. "The announcement was very intriguing. I think DEI has lost a huge asset. But Teresa [Earnhardt, DEI's owner] had a business decision to make and Junior had to make a decision about his future."
Penske said he respects Earnhardt for what he's had to overcome since his father's death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
"The pressure on him has been enormous, as an individual and a driver" Penske said. "But I think he has handled it well."
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.