Roger Penske and John Menard, two men who are famous in terms of history of the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for different reasons. The two successful businessmen, one in the automotive business, the other in the lumber and home improvement business, and once rivals at the Brickyard have joined forces in 2016 to support second year Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud in the 100th running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Menards, one of the largest home improvement chains in the Midwestern United States, will back the No. 22 Chevrolet, the first time in eight years the long time Indy 500 car sponsor has been featured in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Of course, the sponsor for over three decades has been associated with the company founder’s own race team. The most noticeable period for Team Menard was during the 1990s when the team had several strong runs in both the race and qualifying with the Buick V-6 stock block engine, a program John Menard continued after GM pulled back their support with in 1993. The engine program, re-badged as Menard, continued to post solid runs, mainly in qualifying.
The most notable runs in Time Trial mode for Team Menard mode came in 1991 when Gary Bettenhausen was the fastest overall qualifier and in 1995 and 1996 when Scott Brayton claimed back to back pole positions. He is also famous for providing Eddie Cheever and team owner Norm Turley with a car during Bump Day in 1993, with which Cheever used to bump 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal from the field.
While high race results were harder to come by due to mechanical unreliability, the team did manage top ten runs from Al Unser in 1992 (third), Arie Luyendyk in 1995 (seventh), and Danny Ongais in 1996 (sixth). After the Indy Racing League did away with turbocharging after 1996, Team Menard continued their front running efforts, placing at least one car on the front row every year from 1997 through 2002. It was also during this run that Menard suffered his most painful near miss of winning the Indy 500, when in 1999 Robby Gordon ran out of fuel just over one lap from the finish.
Of course, the Captain has had his own measure of success at the Indianapolis 500, winning the event 16 times and entering the 100th edition of the race as the reigning winning car owner thanks to the efforts last May by Juan Pablo Montoya. Penske’s first win at the Brickyard came in 1972 with the late Mark Donohue, and he has entered at least one car in the Indy 500 in each of the past six decades. Rick Mears won all four of his Indy 500s for Penske,
As for Pagenaud, the Frenchman had his most competitive month of May to date. He qualified on the outside of the front row, the first time in four Indy 500 attempts that he had started on the front row. He led 35 laps and was among the top five for the first 400 miles of the event, until contact with another car damaged his front wing. Although he recovered, he finished tenth. Pagenaud is also famous for winning for the inaugural running of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis two years ago.
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