Monday, November 24, 2008

Racing Chatter: Helio Out at Penske

Here is the latest IRL gossip. For you gearnuts out there, this is pretty interesting stuff. Enjoy.

OK, remember how our new buddy Kevin Lee of the IMS Radio Network warned a few weeks ago about stuff you read on blogs? How it may or may not be true? Well, this time that's the case because in the interest of conversation I'm just going to throw something out at you. If I were Robin I'd be running for a microphone and a TV camera right now, but I'm not so I'm attaching a humongous disclaimer.

WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

Alright, now that we have that out of the way we can continue.
Here's the deal: I've recently been told by someone who is a lot closer to the goings on of the IRL than your humble host that in lieu of the recent decision to deny Helio Castroneves a delay from his schedule March court date that Team Penske has already decided lock up a different driver for the 2009 season. Could this mean they think the trial will drag on for months? Could it mean they think the evidence against Helio is rock solid? Could it mean he's agreed to plead guilty? I have no idea on any of those.
But wait, there's more. I was also told that the driver that Penske is eyeing is Vitor Meira and that they are negotiating with Foyt Enterprises to buy him out of his newly signed contract. Does this mean Foyt will let Vitor go? Would Tony George try to influence this decision? Who would replace Vitor at Foyt? Sorry, I haven't got a clue.

Once again, WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

If this in fact true, and really considering all we've read I don't think this is an entirely a shocking chain of events, it would demonstrate three key points.

1. Roger Penske is most concerned with winning the Indy 500. While the idea of finding a replacement for Helio has been water cooler material for weeks, most of the conversation has focused on drivers like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Oriol Servia or Justin Wilson. Those guys are good drivers, but that's in the context of the entire IndyCar season. Quick question - how many times has Roger Penske won the Indy 500 as an owner? I know many of you know the answer is 14. Now how many "series championships" has he won? Yeah, I don't know either.
That's because it's all about Indy, and since it's all about Indy you go for the best guy there. 2005 winner Dan Wheldon is locked up with Panther, '04 winner Buddy Rice hasn't, well, looked that great lately, and the last two winners are racing for Big Chip. And Sam Hornish Jr still likes gunning for the Top 30 in stock cars, thank you very much. So of the drivers remaining you gotta look at Vitor who finished 2nd twice in the last four years. In fact, he's never finished worse than 12th at the Brickyard, so he's probably the best option if his current owner is willing to consider negotiating his release.

2. Helio's legal prospects do not look good. There's no way to sugar coat this, because you know The Captain would rather go to Indy with a two-time winner driving his car, but if he believes Helio isn't going to be available then it leads to wondering about what Team Penske knows.
Recall that when the news first broke about Helio's tax evasion indictment that Team Penske was listed as being asked to provide evidence. That's probably because they were writing the checks, but we don't know what else. As bad as the thought about Helio going to trial is then dare to ponder this: Helio is not a US citizen, so if Helio is convicted he faces the likelihood that he will be deported. For good. Whether or not he goes to jail. I'm sure it's not his biggest worry at the moment but let's at least get this out there - his IndyCar career could be over RIGHT NOW.

If you happen to have any, please pass the Excedrin...OK, once more, with feeling. WARNING: This is unconfirmed! The information contained in this post is currently for entertainment purposes only.

3. Tony Kanaan is silently weeping. Let's not even get into his personal loss relating to his longtime friend and/or rival, but rather consider how his gamesmanship in silly season played out. Depending on who you believe Kanaan may have been angling for a ride at TCGR or he may have been simply using the negotiations to leverage more money from AGR. The entire issue is clouded because if he had gone to Ganassi he would have been #2 to reigning champion Scott Dixon's #1, and equipment aside Kanaan's not a #2 type of guy.
However, had he known what was going on with Helio, he likely would have been the guy on the top of Team Penske's list today, and he's definitely be top dog next to Ryan Briscoe. As good as Vitor has been at Indy, Kanaan has set a record by leading the race in all seven of his attempts. Sure, he's still winless at the Brickyard, but you know next May just like every other he's going to be a betting favorite (and fan favorite) no matter how his month goes. If he were available one would suspect Roger would be all over him like white on rice.
Again, these are a lot of words for something that isn't yet confirmed. Maybe Robin or Cavin or someone else will verify it all soon, but I thought you all should be in the loop. If nothing else it certainly makes for quite a conversation.
courtesy of

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