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Keselowski-Wolfe Combo Has A Familiar Look

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 19 2012

Roger Penske's duo of Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe have learned the secret to success. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Racin’ thoughts after first week of playoffs and an end to a season:

Driver gets off to a decent start in a race; he and crew chief improve performance as race wears on; look pretty good but not great heading into final scheduled pit stop of the day; kick crap out of everybody else on the track during final stint; get the victory.

Where have we sampled that method of operation before?

Answer: All of the Lowe’s-sponsored Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets in Sprint Cup have used it five of the past six years.

It happened again on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Except for two details. First, it was Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe who did it. Second, they did it to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus.

After the race, Johnson casually mentioned the formula that his team has used for years, and Keselowski’s used so visibly in the Chase on Sunday. “It’s just racing,” he said. “You go out there and make your car as good as you can.”

And in a way, that is a “Well, duh” truism.

But knowing it and knowing how to do it are two different things and Keselowski and Wolfe seem to know how to do it. Just like their role models; the guys they beat to the finish line in Joliet.

In his post-race comments, the great Roger Penske must have mentioned Johnson and Knaus and their team a half dozen times; saying things like:

Brad Keselowski knows how to win races. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

“To be able to race the 48, we’ve been wanting to race the 48 for many years as I think I’ve been in this sport, and to be able to race side by side within two or three seconds for probably almost 100 laps and come out on top is a real credit to (Keselowski’s) driving skills.”

And:

“To win a race, the first race of the Chase and beat the 48 I guess is something that you’re pretty happy when you go home.”

Then there was:

“To me they’re the benchmark. You don’t win the championships that he has at Hendrick, I don’t know how many he has now, so that’s the gold standard that we have to try to compete against.”

We’ll all know who is doing it better nine weeks from now. But right now, it is clearly advantage Penske 2 car. Last Sunday, it out-48ed the 48.

Just thinkin’: If my last name were Eury, and I worked for JR Motorsports, I’d be headed to Kinko’s with my resume today. I’d certainly hold off on buying that new RV.

Toughest thing to watch over the weekend – tougher than Shane Gray’s Funny Car wreck – was Will Power coming up short in his bid to win the IndyCar Series championship. Again.

All-American Andretti Autosport won its first IndyCar championship. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Team Penske’s quiet guy had his usual great season, winning three of the first four races and piling up points and poles all over the place. And once again, he headed into the final race of the season – in this case, Sunday’s event at Auto Club Speedway – looking like the guy to beat (he had a 17-point lead).

But an unforced error 55 laps in sent him spinning. Ryan Hunter-Reay, in second place when the race started, earned enough points to deprive Power of the title. Again. As in for the third time in the last three years.

At Homestead-Miami Speeday in 2011, Power clipped the wall and lost the title by five points to Dario Franchitti. Last year, his points lead vanished when another car hit him on pit road in the penultimate race, and he was involved in the 15-car accident that killed Dan Wheldon in the finale. Power broke his back in that accident in Las Vegas.

Late Saturday night in Fontana, there, again, was Power. Searching for answers. Possibly scouring the karma bank for those answers.

The word “depressing” got big use.

“I wish I could say I could care less,” he would say.

Two-thousand miles away at Chicagoland Speedway, kindred spirit Mark Martin had to be looking down and thinking: I hear ya, brother.

Some of us who love racing have refused to get caught up in the nationalities of drivers. A good driver is a good driver kind of thing.

And, we actually thought it quite cool when legends like Nigel Mansell, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Marcos Ambrose and personal favorite Teo Fabi migrated to America to race.

But, also, it’s undeniable that the success of home-grown drivers is important to the health of American racing series. So, it was quite cool to see Ryan Hunter-Reay win the 2012 IndyCar championship for fellow American Michael Andretti.

This was supposed to be Shawn Langdon’s year. Now, one race into the six-race NHRA playoffs, it appears that it still might be.

Shawn Langdon picked a good time to win his first Top Fuel victory. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Tami Pope)

Langdon was one of those drivers who, in previous years, you watched and wondered just how good he would be with the right team: During his days with Morgan Lucas Racing, he earned the reputation as one of the best leavers in Top Fuel.

But going up against the big boys of Don Schumacher Racing and Al-Anabi Racing week after week for three years, he was unable to produce a victory.

This season, he joined one of those teams; Al-Anabi. That is, he went to work for the team that had won the previous two chamionships – in 2010 with Larry Dixon and in 2011 with Del Worsham.

The supposition on some parts was that wins would start coming in bunches. Didn’t happen. Not even close.

“Eighty-seven races into it I wondered why I haven’t won; am I doing something wrong?” he would say.

He did zero wrong last weekend at Countdown race No. 1 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C. Then and there, he ripped through the field and finally got his hands around a Wally.

The victory shot him from seventh to third in points. He will begin this weekend’s race in Innis, Texas third in points – just 19 behind leader Tony Schumacher.

This is just what we were looking for,” Langdon said. “We came into the Countdown 80 points down and we knew we needed to make up some points in the first round and now we’re within a round of the lead.”

The guess here is that wins will now coming in bunches for Langdon.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, September 19 2012
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