I get asked a lot of questions about whether I will ever go back to IndyCar racing, or more specifically, will I ever race in the Indy 500 again. This question is especially prevalent during the month of May as the Indianapolis 500 is always a massive story. The answer is always the same: I love Indy and winning that race is the greatest accomplishment of my driving career to date.
I do have thoughts of running the Indy 500, but I am able to enjoy being a fan of the race without the anxiety I placed on myself when I was involved.
When I started racing go-karts as a kid, I set what I thought was an extremely lofty goal — I wanted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. I felt that if I could do that then I would have done something worthwhile. The way it worked out I accomplished that goal when I was 20 years old. So I had to set some new goals.
Over the course of my open-wheel racing career, I was fortunate to qualify for the Indy 500 eight times. In 2006, we qualified on the pole and went on to win the race. It was unbelievable.
The next year I was offered a chance to run in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Most people will not remember this, but since I had won the IndyCar Series championships in 2001 and 2002, I was able to run the International Race of Champions series for three years. That series gave me an opportunity to drive a stock car at some of the big ovals. I have to admit it was way different from anything I’d done behind the wheel of a race car in my career, and it was challenging.
So when the time came to decide if I wanted to switch from IndyCar to NASCAR, I thought since I had accomplished more than I could have hoped for or imagined in open-wheel racing, what better or bigger challenge than trying my hand in stock car racing.
It turned out to be an even greater challenge than I anticipated. I think that is what is meant by the saying, “Be careful what you wish for.”
One of the stories I tell when people ask about my IndyCar success is that when I was 12 years old, I had a dream one night that I met Roger Penske and he asked me to drive for him. I remember waking up thinking, “Yeah, right, like that’ll happen.”
So, while it was a tremendous honor to run and win at Indy and an accomplishment that will be difficult to surpass, the Indy 500 is not likely in my future as a driver. It makes me happy since now I get to enjoy the race. I can watch it and then look forward to next year. When I was driving open-wheel cars, Indy was always in the back of my mind, and the month of May was a physical, mental and emotional roller coaster. It is certainly one of those things that one has to experience to understand.
Life has been exceptionally generous to me — I’ve had dreams come true. I’ve also struggled, faced criticism and self-doubt. Now, I am enjoying myself, doing something I love that allows me to take care of my family and spend time with them. I am immensely fortunate and truly thankful for all of it.
Good luck to all of my Penske Racing teammates this month at Indy. I’ll definitely be watching.