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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pennzoil and Penske to Reunite

Longtime NASCAR team sponsor Shell/Pennzoil will leave Richard Childress Racing for Team Penske in 2011, where it will adorn the hood of the No. 22 Dodge of 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion Kurt Busch. Pennzoil will thus enter a direct business relationship with Roger Penske and his many companies.

This deal has an effect on Penske's IZOD IndyCar Series team as well. It will spell the end of Penske's relationship with Mobil 1, a partnership that is currently in its 20th year. However, it will also reunite Penske with a brand that backed his cars for eight years in the 1980s.

It will also mark the return of the Pennzoil brand to the Indy Racing League. Pennzoil was one of the first big primary sponsors in the original IRL, maintaining a presence from 1996 to 2005 before focusing their sponsorship dollars on NASCAR. They sponsored Panther Racing from 1998 until their exit, and among the drivers to pilot the yellow No. 4 was Sam Hornish Jr., who won championships with the team in 2001 and 2002. Ironically, Hornish now drives for Penske in NASCAR.

The return of the Pennzoil brand to open-wheel racing is not without significance. A Pennzoil-sponsored car competed in every Indianapolis 500 from 1979 to 2005, with a total of four teams taking the yellow colors to the track. Chaparral Cars, the sports car constructor founded by Texas oil magnate Jim Hall, carried the sponsorship from 1979 to 1982, winning the 1980 race and CART championship with Johnny Rutherford.

In 1983, the brand aligned itself with Penske and Rick Mears, and the results were phenomenal - between 1983 and 1990, Mears won 10 races in Pennzoil colors, including the 1984 and 1988 Indianapolis 500s. Pennzoil-lubricated Penskes also won the 1985 and 1987 races with Danny Sullivan and Al Unser, respectively.

From 1991 to 1995, the sponsorship returned to Hall and his VDS Racing. The team scored four top-10s at Indianapolis in those five years, with their best finish John Andretti's fifth place in 1991. When CART and the IRL split in 1996, the sponsorship went to Pagan Racing and Roberto Guerrero for two years, before finding a home with Panther.

There is no word on whether Pennzoil will re-assume a primary role with one of Penske's IndyCars, or just a secondary role, as Mobil 1 currently holds.

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