Team Penske

In the Fast Lane: Most Improved after Daytona

Photo by: Robert Laberge

The 2018 NASCAR season kicked off to an incredibly start in the 60th running of The Great American Race at Daytona International Speedway.

An iconic number returned to Victory Lane after being pushed by another, while rookies and veterans alike were the victim of the Big One.

This week’s Top 5 most improved drivers earned their place by making impressive moves, improving their positions from a year ago, and leading laps and earning stage points.

No. 1 Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – The Richard Petty Motorsports driver finished a career high second in his first start in the Daytona 500. Wallace, who started seventh, remained up front throughout the event and became the highest finishing African American in the event. Wendell Scott held the previous record for his 13th place finish in the 1966 Daytona 500.

Wallace pushed Austin Dillon to the win Sunday evening and avoided the Big One, despite contact with Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin in overtime.

The RPM driver can take the momentum and confidence gained and apply it next weekend at Atlanta. Wallace has three Xfinity starts at the 1.5-mile track, his best finish is sixth from one year ago.

No. 2 Austin Dillon – Austin Dillon stated he doesn’t remember much about the 1998 Daytona 500, in which he stood in Victory Lane next to the late Dale Earnhardt.

The 27-year-old will have a reason to remember this year’s event in twenty years.

Dillon restarted fourth in an overtime finish, but gained the lead after making contact with Aric Almirola, which sent the Stewart-Haas Racing driver spinning.

The win is Dillon’s second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Dillon now holds victories in two of the four “Crown Jewel” events. Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 in 2017.

Dillon has proven to excel under pressure of the famous No. 3 in recent years, earning eight top-5s and 18 top-10 finishes since 2016.

No. 3 Ryan Blaney – Ryan Blaney dominated by leading 118 laps and winning Stage 2. The newest driver of Team Penske came back to earn a seventh place finish despite sustaining damage in two multi-car wrecks.

Blaney heads into Atlanta, where he has an average finish of 21.5, as the points leader. Can he improve his results, and will it be enough to keep the points lead over teammate Joey Logano?

No. 4 Michael McDowell – Michael McDowell found a new home at Front Row Motorsports after losing his ride to Kasey Kahne at Leavine Family Racing, but he picked up right where he left off with another stellar performance at a restrictor plate track.

McDowell finished ninth in his 250th start. It is his second straight top-10 at Daytona and sixth top-10 of his career.

McDowell wasn’t in contention for the win at the end, but remained mid-pack for majority of the race. He was as high as fifth and secured stage points in Stage 1 (sixth) and Stage 2 (fifth).

No. 5 Chris Buescher – Chris Buescher last scored a top-5 in August of 2016, when he finished fifth at Bristol. The JTG-Daugherty Racing driver quietly climbed inside the top-5 Sunday to earn his best finish at the 2.5-mile track.

Buescher scored a top-10 during the 2017 Coca Zero 400. He sits ninth in the points standings, 25 points behind the points leader.

Notables: Justin Marks earned his best career finish at Daytona with 12th place, one lap down from the leaders. Marks has four MENCS starts and led his first lap in the series on Sunday.

William Byron finished 23rd after spinning on Lap 190. Byron was also involved in a 9-car incident on Lap 60 that ended the day for Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Daniel Suarez, and two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson.

Danica Patrick was the victim of a multi-car wreck on Lap 102 and finished in the 35th position. The race was Patrick’s last NASCAR event. She is scheduled to participate in the Indy 500 to bring her racing career to an end.


Brad Keselowski prevails at Atlanta

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500

Photo by: Brian Lawdermilk

Brad Keselowski capitalized on others mistakes Sunday evening after battling his own to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.

Keselowski was forced to pit late in the race after a team setback left the No. 2 Autotrader Ford restarting 13th, dampening their chances at a victory. But Keselowski was not to be denied.

“Everybody stayed focused and nobody had to say anything,” he said. “We know the deal. We know this isn’t going to be easy. You have to keep your head down and keep fighting at all times and that’s what we did.”

Keselowski maintained the track position he worked for despite pitting for fresh tires after a caution was thrown for Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick was penalized for speeding on pit road.

Keselowski passed Kyle Larson five laps later to score the 22nd victory of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career. Harvick dominated the event, winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2, before a costly miscalculation.

“I thought I was being conservative,” Harvick said, “Apparently, I wasn’t. I was just pushing it too hard.”

Harvick was just one of the 13 speeding violations throughout the event. Chase Elliott, who paid the price on Lap 212, made a comeback for fifth place.

While most drivers were being penalized for speeding on pit road, surprisingly, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin was not. However, he suffered a rear end issue and finished 38th of the 39 car field.

At the end of the day it was Keselowski with all the glory. He sits third in the standings after gaining five playoff points, while Harvick leads after two races.

Brad Keselowski’s win at Kentucky comes down to fuel mileage

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts

Photo by: Matt Sullivan

Brad Keselowski held more than an eight second lead over Carl Edwards in the remaining laps of the Quaker State 400 Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway.

That lead deteriorated as he went into fuel saving mode to make it to grab the checkers for his second win in two weeks.

“We knew the fuel mileage,” Keselowski said, “We went out and we set a really fast pace there on that restart and just using fuel, and then it became obvious that you were going to have to save fuel at the end, but I already used so much.”

The Penske driver did not have fuel to do a victory donut, needing a push to victory lane, but he made the distance that mattered to clinch his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, where only 8 races remain before the start of the 2016 playoffs.

This was the first race at Kentucky Speedway since the repave and reconfiguration, causing top contention drivers like Hendrick Motorsports driver, Jimmie Johnson, and Joey Logano slamming into the walls and ending their day to compete for the win.

“As long as you weren’t around anybody, it was great.” Tony Stewart said after scoring a fifth place victory in his final start at the 1.5-mile track.

Keselowski, who now has three wins at Kentucky, reiterated the Stewart-Haas Racing’s statement.

“These cars were tough to drive today, but a good tough. This was a hard-fought battle, and I’m really proud of everybody on the 2 crew to get win number four and take that first place.”

Brad Keselowski scores Daytona victory

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola

Photo by: Matt Sullivan

Brad Keselowski knows his way around restrictor-plate tracks, scoring five victories since his Sprint Cup start in 2009, so it’s no surprise that he dominated his way to victory lane during the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Keselowski led 115 of 161 laps while avoiding damage from multiple wrecks Saturday night before capturing his first win at Daytona. The victory is also Penske’s 100th Cup victory.

“It’s been a kick in the you-know-what,” Keselowski said about scoring the Daytona victory, “I got down on myself here. We came down here for the 500 and quite honestly we ran like dog crap, but my team worked on it. I didn’t give up on them.

“I believe in my team and my team believes in me and we went to work and we put together a better car, and it really showed today with a great effort from the whole team. I’m really proud of everybody.”

Although Keselowski has had little to no success at Daytona, his continued effort has helped him gain more knowledge on what to expect at Daytona and its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway.

“I always thought it was one of his strengths for sure,” Paul Wolfe, crew chief of the No. 2 Detroit Genuine Parts Ford said. “Brad is a thinker and he studies and he tries to understand, so I know he’s put his time in to try to understand how the draft works and how to be better at it.”

Keselowski, with the help of his teammate Joey Logano, held off Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch in NASCAR overtime for his 20th career Cup win, which happened to be during Keselowski’s 250th Cup start.

“It was a good effort for us for sure. The wins are never easy to come by, and I think this one means a lot to me for sure because looking at our past here, it hasn’t been all that rosy.” Keselowski said, “Usually I’m loading up the car and about to be to the airport, so it’s nice to be here and have a great finish.”

Joey Logano wins at Michigan

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400

Photo by: Kena Krutsinger

Joey Logano’s strong restarting skills propelled him to his first Sprint Cup victory of the 2016 season during the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Logano led 138 laps and scored his first victory since last fall at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Penske driver pulled ahead of Hendrick Motorsports rookie Chase Elliott on a final restart to become the 10th different winner this season after Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin blew a tire that brought out a caution with 12 laps to go.

“Everyone did a great job of understanding what this package was going to do,” Logano said. “They put together a great race car for me.”

A missed shift by Elliott on lap 154 gave the lead back to Logano and Elliott never recovered to battle for the win at the end. Elliott, however, finished a career-best of 2nd place.

“You can’t do dumb stuff and win these races. Completely my fault,” Elliott said. “The guys gave me a great car today. This whole NAPA group has been working so hard these past few weeks, and that one was on me.”

Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-5.