Briscoe Should Return To Penske Next Season

Normally, I don’t get too riled up from what I see in the comment section of other IndyCar blog sites. I’m usually doing good just to keep up with what’s going on over here. But after Ryan Briscoe’s much needed victory at Sonoma this past weekend, I saw a lot of the vile and almost hatred toward Briscoe pop up again on more than a couple of my fellow blogger’s web sites. I’ll stress – these were comments, not the words of my fellow bloggers. There was none of that here, fortunately, so this rant is probably aimed at the wrong people. Still, it’s something I had to get off of my chest.

I’ve been accused of hating a lot of things; Japan, dust, holly bushes and tattoos come to mind of some of the things people claim that I hate. Actually, a couple of those are true – but we won’t get into that – but Ryan Briscoe is not one of them. Yet for some strange reason, there are those out there that talk of Ryan Briscoe as if he were the anti-Christ. My question is: why?

What has Ryan Briscoe done to stir up such hatred among IndyCar fans? This is not a controversial personality we’re talking about here. I can understand if a few people find him boring, bland or just too nice; but are these really the traits that should get blood to boiling? It boggles the mind.

We’re talking about a genuinely nice guy here. I met him a couple of times in 2005, when he was driving for Target Chip Ganassi and was saddled with the sluggish Toyota engine and the ill-handling g-Force (Panoz) chassis. Although he was struggling mightily, he was always quick to chat it up with us fans. Then he was unceremoniously dumped by Ganassi while recovering from injuries sustained in a horrifying crash at Chicagoland Speedway. He drove a few races the following year for Dreyer & Reinbold – one of which was Nashville, where he finished ninth.

Susan and I were both at that race and we each had our own separate encounters with Briscoe prior to the race. Susan was volunteering for DownForce in their tent, when Briscoe was introduced as the surprise guest. Except for the cronies in DownForce who traveled around from race to race, none of the locals visiting the tent had a clue who Briscoe was. He had not yet won a race and his only claim to fame was surviving that crash a year earlier – but no one there even connected those dots. Susan says they paid him no mind whatsoever and he was sitting there like a bump on a log. Susan knew who he was and started talking to him. She said he was friendly, engaging and seemed genuinely thrilled that anyone here in NASCAR country knew who he was.

My meeting with him was not as glamorous. We both hit the restroom in the garage area right at the same time just before the race and ended up…er, um standing next to each other. There were other fans in there, but again – they had no clue who he was. We started talking, making sure to maintain eye contact – that’s what guys do in that situation. I asked how he liked driving for Dreyer & Reinbold, if he had anything lined up for the next season (he didn’t) and how he was feeling after his terrifying crash. He could have ignored me since we were so close to race time, but he was cordial and again seemed honored that anyone knew who he was or who he was driving for. In fact, that big Briscoe smile lit up as we discussed his chances for the race that night. Is this the type person that fans are wanting to vilify?

For those that like to keep a running tally on things that I’m not fond of, add Sam Hornish to the list. I’ve never been a fan and he just sort of rubs me the wrong way. But do I hate him? No. But when Hornish left for those supposed greener pastures and he was replaced by Briscoe, I welcomed the change. Hornish was super-talented, I’ll give him that – but he also came across as very aloof and generally gave the impression he was not fully comfortable in his role. If I were a sponsor, Sam Hornish is not the driver I would want as my representative off of the track.

Ryan Briscoe is a much more suitable spokesperson for Team Penske and the IZOD IndyCar Series in general. He is pleasant, affable, conversant and always interacts with the fans, no matter what the circumstances. He also gels with his team much better than Sam Hornish ever seemed to. Hornish and his Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, never quite seemed to mesh at all – although Helio and Briscoe give the appearance that they get along quite well. It’s hard to believe that Briscoe has already been at Team Penske for one year longer than Hornish was there.

Both drivers can claim winning eight races while driving for Roger Penske. But the name of the game is winning the Indianapolis 500 and championships. In his four-years stint at Team Penske, Hornish won both in 2006. In almost five complete seasons with Penske, Briscoe has come close to a championship (2009) but had not come close to any success in the 500 under Penske, until this past May when he won the pole and finished fifth – equaling his one-off effort in 2007 with Luczo-Dragon Racing.

The talent is definitely there with Briscoe, but he does have one problem that has plagued him at Team Penske – brain fades. Sometimes, he just seems to lose focus at the worst times – whether it’s letting the car get away from him while leaving the pits at Motegi with a huge lead, or just allowing a car to aimlessly drift into the wall on numerous occasions.

It’s probably these brain fades that have all of the silly-season experts so willing to give his seat at Penske away to a promising newcomer like Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal or Simona de Silvestro. They just assume that Briscoe’s results have worn thin with The Captain, and he will be out of a job soon. I don’t think so.

Although he has a hard-nosed reputation, Roger Penske hasn’t fired too many IndyCar drivers over the years. He finally cut Big Al loose from his part-time ride with Penske following the 1989 season. Kevin Cogan, Danny Sullivan and Paul Tracy all come to mind, but I don’t think he has let anyone go since Al Unser, Jr. following the 1999 season. We now know that Little Al wasn’t just dismissed due to his lack of results, there were other factors involved.

Roger Penske is very loyal to his drivers and generally won’t be quick to fire them unless there are other things going on. His NASCAR team has seen recent turnover, but both Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger were fired for cause – not poor results. Ryan Briscoe hasn’t given Roger Penske any headaches away from the track. All of his problems have taken place on the track. He either loses concentration and tears up equipment or just has frequent lackluster weekends. The right attitude and image can cover up a lot of honest driver mistakes at Penske.

After a disastrous 2011, Ryan Briscoe has bounced back. He won the pole at Indianapolis, he won the race at Sonoma and is currently eighth in points. So before these Briscoe naysayers that read other sites start giving away Ryan Briscoe’s seat, they need to check Roger Penske’s history of firing drivers – it’s rather short. I’ll be shocked if Ryan Briscoe isn’t back at Team Penske for 2013. He’s earned that chance. Now – go find someone else to pick on.

George Phillips

20 Responses to “Briscoe Should Return To Penske Next Season”

  1. Count me in as a big Briscoe fan. I like Ryan and my encounters with him have been great. He is also worthy, in my opinion, of keeping his Penske seat. He gets a lot of blame because of accidents that he gets caught up in. He was taken out of last year\’s 500 and was taken out of last year\’s race at Barber by RHR. I can go on a bit more, but I think that Briscoe has the goods.

    • Penskefan Says:

      JohnMc, I totally agree with you. I have met Ryan several times at testing sessions as well as Sonoma and he was friendly and approachable each and every time. What annoys me following the Sonoma race is the fact that certain bloggers make it sound that Ryan should have apologized to Will Power for coming in first place. They make it sound as though Ryan should have pulled over and let Will take the lead and win the race. I don’t believe that Ryan gets the respect from a percentage of IndyCar bloggers that he deserves. Although his racing record does not compare to either Helio or Will he is still as asset to Team Penske.

  2. That Damn ‘Furriner took Nicole Manske off the market and into a tragic life of being a rich ride buyers white sex slave.

  3. George:

    Personally, I like Briscoe too, and was very happy for the guy this weekend. However, I’m in the camp that believes that he has simply fallen short of expectations1 win every 2 years is not really the standard for a Penske driver.

    Anyway, I think he will be back with The Captain if funding can be found.


  4. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    I think Briscoe was safe before this win. He’s a good driver and has the off-track persona that Penske craves. He’s a good bloke.

  5. I agree about Sam Hornish, Jr. I was never a fan and was more than happy to see him leave the sport of Indycar. I am a fan of Briscoe simply for the fact that he was nearly out of the sport for good, took his knocks, and made his way back to the sport, scoring the best ride in the paddock, the hard way. It’s not the right time for Newgarden or Rahal. The only driver that may perform better in the driving role than Briscoe would be Bourdais, but again, I don’t believe he is fit for all of the other PR aspects of the job (so important to Penske). Plus, I’ve gotten the impression over the years that Roger is very fond of Briscoe, that their relationship seems more personal and close than the other drivers. Fun read, thanks!

  6. I was one of the anti-Briscoe clan up until a few weeks ago. I had the pleasure of attending an autograph session with Penske drivers the day before Mid-Ohio weekend. Helio was Helio, Power just gave me a hard time on what I thought was a reasonable question, but then Briscoe couldn’t have been nicer when I was asking him about the Gold Coast 600. The last thing I said to him was “he was due.” can I take credit for the win?

    Does he keep his job? Probably. Penske isn’t in the business of driver development. Newgarden isn’t ready on the track and Rahal isn’t ready off the track. Who out there is better? Bourdais is the only guy out there. I don’t see it inly because he strikes me as a guy who has to be a #1 driver and you wonder if he would ruffle his teamates feathers. Of course he could have learned a lot from his F1 (Vettel destroyed him), Le Mans (the ultimate team motorsport), and recent IndyCar experiences (carrying lesser teams) to become a better teammate. Either way Briscoe is good enough to keep around even if you consider him a #3 driver. Can we move on to figuring out who drives the #38?

  7. I finally admitted to secretly rooting against Ryan Briscoe for the past two years this weekend. But it is not because of his personality or skill. Honestly, I just want some movement at the pointy end of the grid. When 2012 closes, it will have been four full seasons since we have seen a single driver change at the top five seats. Briscoe seems to be in the weakest position hence my rooting against him. It’s not anything personal, just a commentary on his position. And anyway, if a guy like Briscoe is perceived as being your weakest driver, you’re doing pretty dang well and probably shouldn’t shake things up until given good cause. It’s not like Team Penske has been hurting for success in indycar racing; The Captain knows what he is doing.

    Hire years for the “big five” seats for reference:
    Briscoe – 08
    Castroneves – 01
    Power – ½ 09
    Franchitti – 09
    Dixon – 02 (from CART)

    Well put and thought provoking. Thanks George.

    • billytheskink Says:

      2000 was the hire year for Castroneves, but yeah, I’m with you here. A new face in one of the top 5 seats would be very interesting, and I welcome things that make Indycar more interesting.

      Now I certainly won’t be upset if Briscoe returns to Penske, and I think it is likely that he does, but there is no denying that Penske replacing Briscoe would be a story worth following.

    • Brian McKay Says:

      Castroneves was hired in Autumn 1999.

  8. Stan The Caddy Says:

    Briscoe does nothing to elicit reaction from fans. He isn’t marketable and has never done much of anything at Indianapolis.

    One of the biggest problems with the sport is that of the 5 top rides (3 Penske and 2 Ganassi) that win most of the races, 4 of the drivers are “blah” that might all be nice fellas…but can’t be sold to the American public. Briscoe might be good…but America doesn’t care…and never will.

  9. The problem with Briscoe is he’s possibly the most generic driver in Indycar or NASCAR, though Matt Kenseth and David Ragan could give him a run for his money.

    • Matt Kenseth is thrilled he is being lumped in with David Ragan. By the way, follow Kenseth on twitter (like Jimmie Johnson) and you will not think he is a boring guy.

  10. See, Stan’s and Dylan’s arguments just don’t mean anything to me. Can you really declare that there’s anything intrinsically interesting or “marketable” about Clint Bowyer or Martin Truex Jr. or Greg Biffle or Paul Menard or Jeff Burton or the aforementioned Kenseth or Ragan or, for that matter, about a dozen other NASCAR drivers? If you don’t follow them on Twitter, or if you’re the average SportsCenter viewer (I have a feeling that a lot of my arguments going forward are going to harp on that “average SportsCenter viewer”, because there are a lot of them out there and they are clearly not watching IndyCar right now), then what you know about any them? I know Bowyer’s from Kansas and Kenseth is from Wisconsin, but outside of that, what is so great about any of them (and this is coming from a guy who shares a home state and a common ex-employer with Kenseth)?

    So, with all of that in mind, what’s the problem with Briscoe or Dixon or any of the guys who “disinterested IndyCar fans” call “boring” (which, I’d say if you ever bothered to learn anything about, you wouldn’t call them boring, but that might be my own personal problem with all of the NASCAR guys I just namechecked in the last paragraph)? Do you really think that somebody dropping into their first ever IndyCar race can look at either of their cars on the track and know intrinsically that they’re too boring to give a crap about? Can anybody seriously say that they’ve ever met one person that claimed that happened to? Or are all the “boring driver haters” simply substituting “the American public thinks these guys are boring” in for “I think they’re boring”.

    Look, I’m just saying that before anybody can jump up and down and claim that any one IndyCar driver (or drivers) is responsible for horrendous TV ratings, I’d like some actual proof. People who watch the NHL or soccer (and there is an ever growing number of that type of person in the US) or MLB or the NBA, those people are increasingly familiar with people in their sport who weren’t born in this country, many of whom have much sillier names than Dixon or Power or Briscoe. Until somebody goes out and polls the (probable) 290 million people in this country who don’t even know what IndyCar is why they don’t follow, then we will be left guessing as to why it is that they don’t follow. To me, the rational conclusion is that you can’t follow something that you don’t know exists, which you could largely lay at the feet of spending most of our time on deep cable. Others may draw other conclusions, but I’d like to hear some actual stats to back them up before I take any of them seriously.

    In the meantime, good on Ryan Briscoe. I hope he stays with Penske, because I really only think there are two guys in non-Penske/Ganassi cars who are better (Bourdais and Wilson). One is apparently locked up for next year and the other guy is apparently not on Roger’s radar screen for some reason. With that being the case, Ryan’s the best available driver right this second. And that’s why he’s probably coming back next year.

    • Very well stated! I could not agree with you more, particularly your comment about simply substituting “the American public thinks these guys are boring” for “I think they are boring”.

      Anyway, Ryan’s wife is a Green Bay Packer fan (born in Wisconsin), so hey, what’s not to like?

      You know it is a slow news week when most of the talk is about RHR whining and Briscoe being boring. The internet is truly both a blessing and a curse. I grew up reading the Midwest Racing News. Not much talk in there about whining and boring.

    • billytheskink Says:

      I buy the argument that having publicly engaging drivers is good for Indycar, I don’t buy that those drivers must come at the expense of the Ryan Briscoes of the series.

  11. billytheskink Says:

    Briscoe is not the first, nor will he be the last, to suffer the slings and arrows of fans who expect the world out of any driver in a highly regarded seat.
    A low-end example would Rahal at Ganassi2, an extreme example would be Michael Andretti in F1.

    Briscoe’s a good guy, a good driver, and I hope to see him remain in the series and wish him well whether he’s at Penske or elsewhere (unless he’s racing my favorite driver…)

  12. All right, now I have to check those other blogs to see how anyone could possibly say anything bad about Briscoe, who has to be one of the nicest guys out there. Good read, George.

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