Inaugural Success

May 12, 2021

"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most successful racing organization in North America has been able to win at all kinds of tracks across different racing platforms. Since the establishment of Team Penske in 1966, the team has produced an incredible 589 race victories. What might be overlooked, however, is the team’s impressive track record at first-time race venues. Team Penske has earned 33 wins among 21 different drivers at inaugural events over the last 55 years. Four of the team’s drivers have been victorious at an inaugural event more than once, including Rick Mears, Scott McLaughlin and Will Power, with each champion racer securing two maiden race wins. Mark Donohue won 13 first-time events across four different series for Team Penske, including Can Am, Trans Am, INDYCAR and USRRC competition.

So, why has Team Penske been so adept over the years at conquering the challenge of racing at a track where it’s never competed before?

“The first place to point is the constant throughout – Roger Penske.  His drive for perfection is unmatched and the tenacity at which he approaches a new project has been documented in countless ways,” said Travis Geisler, Team Penske NASCAR Competition Director. “I believe that attitude has carried through every employee at Team Penske and when a new challenge is created, the eagerness to be the first to overcome has remained consistent.”


The ability to produce in an unknown environment can also be traced back to a common Penske practice.

“It comes down to preparation.” said Jon Bouslog, longtime team member and the current race strategist on the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet team competing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. “The team really leaves no stone unturned and we pride ourselves on exploring all avenues to put us in the best position possible to succeed.”

Team Penske’s initial inaugural win marked its first-ever race victory – in 1966 at the Daytona Road Course. The team secured a GT class victory in the 24-hour race at Daytona on February 6, with Dick Guldstrand, George Wintersteen and Ben Moore. Team Penske’s second inaugural win at the Daytona Road Course came on August 15, 2020 when Austin Cindric was victorious in the NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) UNOH 188.

The Daytona Road Course is one of two tracks where Team Penske has posted multiple inaugural events wins. Donohue claimed a pair of opening event wins in two separate series at Circuit Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada in 1968. The first victory was in a McLaren competing in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) Series, and the second was driving a Camaro in the Trans Am Series. During the 1968 season Donohue captured a total of five inaugural wins for Team Penske, the highest mark in a single season for the team.

Team Penske’s highly-successful Trans Am Series program delivered the most inaugural wins with 10, followed by its INDYCAR teams, which have produced nine such victories. One of the most memorable INDYCAR initial race wins came at Gateway in St. Louis when Paul Tracy delivered the team’s 200th overall victory in 1997. The team’s American Le Mans Series program delivered victories at Miller Motorsports Park in 2006, on the streets of St. Petersburg and at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park in 2007. The DJR Team Penske Australian SuperCars team also recorded two inaugural wins.

In NXS competition, Team Penske has earned three inaugural race wins. The first came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2012 when Brad Keselowski won the Indiana 250.

The team’s NASCAR Cup Series program has tallied inaugural victories at New Hampshire in 1993 with Rusty Wallace and the Charlotte Roval with Ryan Blaney in 2018. The most recent Cup Series first-event win came earlier this season when Joey Logano and the No. 22 Ford Mustang team won the 2021 Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The last NASCAR sanctioned dirt race was won by Richard Petty on, September 30, 1970, exactly 18,443 days before Joey Logano’s dirt, and the first ever on dirt in Team Penske history.

The challenge of racing on dirt and preparing for the unknowns that would bring took the team’s inaugural race success to an entirely new level.

“That was certainly the most unique event I have been a part of with Team Penske,” said Geisler. “Preparing the drivers and crew chiefs for the event required those of us with a dirt racing background on the team to adapt our knowledge to the Cup cars as quickly as possible.  The drivers were able to get some seat time in other forms of dirt cars to speed up the learning curve when we unloaded in Bristol. There were also a lot of modifications to the car to get the suspension and body ready for a difficult race. It was great to see Joey take the checkered flag and win the first dirt race Team Penske ever entered!”

While the wins have been impressive, the opportunity to shine at a new circuit seems to stoke the competitive fire for Team Penske’s race teams.

“Whenever there’s a new event, something new and there’s a new challenge and new opportunity, everybody at Team Penske seems to thrive with those opportunities,” said Jeremy Bullins, Crew Chief of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang. We take a lot of pride in looking ahead and trying to be the best we can be when there’s a chance to win a new race like that.”

Another element of Team Penske’s first-race focus is minimizing the costly errors that can quickly derail a promising race weekend.

“It’s been my experience that our teams are very good at planning for the worst so we are in a good position to best the best,” said Bouslog. “We make sure we have everything in place to support our teams when things don’t go right.”

This can include having spare parts and spare body work ready to go or even pre-fitting different parts or aerodynamic elements to move in a different direction if the cars aren’t performing as the team had hoped early on in a race weekend.

The next opportunity for Team Penske to add to its impressive inaugural race record comes next weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series visits the Circuit of the America’s (COTA) road course in Austin, Texas for the first time on May 23.

“We have had some good runs on road courses this year so we will use that set up as a baseline, we will spend time in the Ford simulator as well as looking at the data from the No. 2 Ford’s test at COTA earlier this year. There is still plenty of unknowns with how the cars and tires will react on longer runs with this surface and configuration so we will have to be on top of the strategy during the race,” said Paul Wolfe, Crew Chief of the No. 22 Ford Mustang.  “I always get excited about inaugural events because it’s kind of like a clean slate for everyone to start with, which means it’s our opportunity to figure it out first.”

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