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Team Penske Adds to Incredible Indy Legacy for 'The Captain'

As the celebration started in Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane and then moved to a traditional kiss of “The Yard of Bricks,” Walter Czarnecki didn’t have much time to check his cell phone, which was buzzing seemingly non-stop.

Team Penske vice chairman Czarnecki had tried to reach Roger Penske to share the news that driver Brad Keselowski had delivered to “The Captain” his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at IMS in the Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line on Monday.

“I’m sure he’s been watching,” Czarnecki said of his busy boss, who has built a Hall of Fame legacy largely on a record 17 Indianapolis 500 wins at this famous venue. “My phone has been ringing off the hook. I’ve already got like 27 messages.”

As crew chief Paul Wolfe would concede later, the importance of this Cup victory for Team Penske was understood without the need for many words.

“It just goes without saying,” Wolfe said.

Even Keselowski’s wife, Paige, was well aware. Leaning next to the pit-lane wall with their singing 3-year-old daughter Scarlett, Paige gazed with admiration at the start/finish line hoopla.

“He did it,” she said. “Brad gave Roger something he’s wanted for a long time.”

Czarnecki texted Penske before the brick kissing commenced. If anyone could appreciate this accomplishment, it was Czarnecki, who began working with Penske in 1970. He’s been through 24 previous Brickyards, finishing second five times, including last year with Keselowski.

“This was one box that needed to be checked,” Czarnecki said. “I’m just so happy for him (Penske), and I’m so sorry he couldn’t be here to join us.”

Czarnecki mentioned how this was Team Penske’s 499th career victory in all forms of motor racing. They had hoped to sweep both races, starting with the Xfinity Series Lilly Diabetes 250 earlier in the day, to get to No. 500.

But winning the latter race this day would suffice as memorable.

“(Penske) sent me a text,” Czarnecki said after his ceremonial kiss of the bricks. “‘Sorry, I can’t talk right now.’ He’s in a business meeting.”

Then his phone buzzed again.

“It’s not him,” he said. “It’s my wife.”

Standing not far from the on-track party, IMS President Doug Boles said he wished he could have seen the look of pride on Penske’s face.

“A Penske in Victory Lane no matter where it is, that’s a familiar sight, especially around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Boles said. “It’s really hard to believe that it’s taken to the 25th running that Roger Penske is in Victory Lane for the NASCAR Brickyard 400 race. It’s pretty cool to think about another victory for Roger Penske.”

As some point, Penske broke away from his meeting to call his winning driver.

“It was very brief,” Keselowski said. “Unfortunately, he couldn’t be here today. He’s on a secret mission somewhere. If you know Roger Penske, that makes perfect sense. With that in mind, I very much wish he was here, and I’m thinking about him. Gosh, it’s such a big day for Team Penske.”

Keselowski conceded his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford wasn’t the fastest car, but a late yellow enabled him to get behind leader Denny Hamlin on a restart with three laps to go. The two cars were bumper to bumper as they pulled away.

On Lap 159, Keselowski and Hamlin bumped after exiting Turn 2 on the backstretch, then again in Turn 3 before Keselowski eventually pulled away on the exit of Turn 4.

“Gosh, that was one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my life,” Keselowski said. “‘Clear,’ coming off Turn 4 at the Brickyard, coming to the white flag.

“We caught a little bit of a break, but we put ourselves in position for that break and then executed before and after.”

Czarnecki admitted having fresher tires helped. But Keselowski had more than that.

“I really knew that Brad was not going to be denied,” Czarnecki said. “He had fresher tires, but that notwithstanding, I knew he had desire. I knew how much he wanted to win this race. He and I spoke about it before the race.”

As Czarnecki sat down in the media center to chat with reporters, he repeated, “My only regret is that (Penske) isn’t here.”

Seemingly on cue, his phone buzzed again.

“That’s not him,” he said.

After the interview, standing next to the elevator, the phone buzzed again at 6:30 p.m. Czarnecki smiled when he saw Roger Penske’s name appear on caller ID.

He walked out on a balcony for privacy to have that much-anticipated and most meaningful of conversations.

Czarnecki returned and with a smile said: “We finally connected. It meant a lot because I know what it means to him to win here.”

Penske’s message was short and sweet: “Thank everybody.”

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