Penske Weekend Sends Message To Hendrick
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Team Penske drivers swept Bristol Motor Speedway’s three-race weekend, providing Ford with its first such accomplishment since 2006 and apparently setting the stage for a Hendrick-Penske showdown in the Sprint Cup championship battle.
Joey Logano won the IRWIN Tools Night race Saturday for his third victory this season, the sixth of his career and fourth in a Ford. Ryan Blaney was victorious in Saturday’s Food City 300 Nationwide race and Brad Keselowski obtained his first career NASCAR Truck victory Thursday in the UNOH 200.
“I think that’s a testament to how bright the future is for Team Penske and I look for more big things to come and years to come,” said Keselowski, who finished 0.390-second behind Logano, giving Penske its first 1-2 Sprint Cup finish this season.
Logan’s win ties him with his teammate and Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson for the most victories this season. Each driver has earned three victories with two races remaining before the Chase begins. The wins translate into bonus points when the standings are reset for the title chase.
“We’re entering the Chase strong in a lot of different ways, and I think we’re both legitimate threats to win the championship this year and I’m proud of that,” Keselowski said. “Hopefully, we can keep that momentum rolling in weeks to come.”
Keselowski, however, declined to respond in detail to a question about when they would
focus on working together or individual in the Chase.
“That’s between Joey and I and we’ve developed a pretty good friendship,” Keselowski said. “Certainly, we’re both hungry to be winners though and there’s a balancing act there. But it’s something I’d like to just keep between Joey and I.”
In Saturday’s 500-lap event, the Penske drivers led a total of five times for 122 laps. The only driver to surpass the duo in laps led was Jamie McMurray, who set the pace on three occasions for 148 laps. Keselowski said it was difficult to say whether he or Logano possessed the advantage heading into the Chase; that they were pretty equal.
Team Penske Executive Vice President Walt Czarnecki said the Mooresville, N.C.-based operation knew it would have a good team this year because it didn’t have the distractions that existed last year. Czarnecki noted that after Keselowski won the 2012 Sprint Cup championship, the team switched from Dodge to Ford, there was a rules change and then a significant penalty against Logano’s and Keselowski’s teams at Texas early in the year.
“In this past off-season we didn’t have those kinds of distractions,” Czarnecki said. “We had the opportunity to make everybody focus on how do we make the best cars possible? How does Joey mature as a person and as a driver?
“One thing he can speak to, when he came on board with us we told Joey there’s no No. 1,
there’s no No. 2; everybody is equal. We all contribute. We all have the same access to information, the same access to resources, and I think it’s really demonstrated that in the performance of the team this year with six wins.”
Crew chief Todd Gordon noted the team had chemistry.
“There’s nobody here on this race team that doesn’t believe we can be successful and isn’t pulling rope together,” Gordon continued. “That, I think, is what helps us to have speed every week and I think we’ll continue to build off that.”
Logano, who only had three career Sprint Cup victories entering the season, said he didn’t care what anyone thought of him and his team.
“They can underestimate us. They can overestimate us. I don’t really care,” Logano said about his chances at the series championship. “We’re gonna go out there and do the best we can do. Todd Gordon and myself have been working very good together and communicating a lot with our race car and we really understand what we need to race well and that’s the way we practice and it shows up when it comes game time in the race. We’re gonna keep doing that.”
Ford’s nine victories this season are the most for the manufacturer since 2008 when its teams produced 11. Logano’s win was Ford’s 627th all-time series victory and the 35th by Penske with a Ford. Also, it was Ford’s 35th win at Bristol, which tied for the most at any track currently on the circuit. Ford also has 35 victories at Michigan.
– Deb Williams can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment