The reigning Supercars champion is expected to eventually make a move to the US, having underlined NASCAR as his “obvious goal”.
Making the move Stateside was brought one step closer by McLaughlin securing a maiden Supercars title last year, something Penske says has “opened the door” for a NASCAR switch.
McLaughlin‘s next target is a Bathurst 1000 crown, however even that may not automatically trigger a move to the US.
According to Penske, the final hurdle will be having a suitable replacement lined up, to ensure DJR Team Penske doesn’t suffer in a post-McLaughlin era.
“We need to build and support, I’d say, a stronger base in Australia,” said Penske.
“When I say that, we need to have good drivers. If you take guy like him out, and we go from the front of the grid to the middle of the grid… we’ve got to be sure if he’s going to come out of there.
“We know what we’re doing down there [in Australia], we know where we are. But there’s still a lot of work to do.
“In my mind, he’s a real opportunity to be a NASCAR great racer at some point. When that could happen, I don’t know.”
Team Penske president Tim Cindric added that McLaughlin is realistic about both what needs to be done in Australia before he can leave, and how the path to NASCAR will look if and when it happens.
“My conversations with him are that he’s not focussed on NASCAR,” said Cindric.
“He’s like, ‘look, at the right time I’m interested in driving sportscars, I’m interested in driving IndyCars, I’m interested in driving NASCAR’ – but he said ‘I do realise that the NASCAR path is a lot different to the path of sportscars and IndyCars for me’.
“So he said we have got to understand what that would all mean, whenever that time comes.
“But he understands that we’re [in Supercars] to win a championship, we did that, and we still need to win Bathurst.
‘He needs to help us to get where we’ve got a solid ground with and without him, so he can look at what his next ventures are. He’s patient.”
Tickford’s Chaz Mostert has been heavily linked to a DJRTP deal for 2020, with both him and current Penske driver Fabian Coulthard out of contract at the end of this season.
Jamie Whincup and Shane van Gisbergen have both extended their deals with Triple Eight, effectively ruling out a move to the factory Holden squad for Mostert.
David Reynolds is another high-profile driver coming off contract this year, although he’s expected to continue with Erebus.
Additional reporting by Charles Bradley