MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Team Penske announced today that Jefferson Hodges, who most recently served as General Manager and Director of Competition for Rev Racing, will join the organization as NASCAR Team Manager beginning with the 2019 season. Continue reading “Team Penske Names NASCAR Team Manager”
Team Penske announces that Austic Cindric will drive the #22 Ford full-time in the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series. MoneyLion will serve as primary sponsor for 18 races. The team will also compete the #12 Ford part-time with a rotation of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard.
I cannot speak on authority on how to solicit a response from a NASCAR driver on Twitter because mine have been far and very few between. What I can tell you is sometimes fans can be inconsiderate and ask questions at terrible times. Such is the case earlier today when Joey Logano tweeted out well wishes to Steve Byrnes. What happened next was a young fan decided that was a great tweet to piggy bank and see how often Logano signs merchandise at the Team Penske shop.
All I can say for this is a big time Jim Utter inspired SMH. Is it so hard to write a new tweet not piggy banking off of one giving well wishes to a gentleman who was just checked into ICU? Today’s lesson is that it is that hard.
The call of a championship raised the performance for all four of the drivers going for the Sprint Cup Series title on Sunday. That was evident by all four being in the top-5 at multiple times during the race. Statistics and history was thrown out the window for the most part, but those pointed to Kevin Harvick winning, and that’s exactly what happened.
It wasn’t overall surprising to see Harvick capture the crown, given that the team has been fast every week. The only thing they could not get going was luck on their side, but they did it the correct way. Get all the bad luck out of the way early, then execute for the title. Interesting that the pit crew for Harvick was able to pick up their second championship, the first being with Tony Stewart in 2011.
Ryan Newman made a big statement in his second place finish that he did not luck his way into this battle. His team even improved up their performance as the race went on, going from losing Newman spots to gaining him spots on pit road. That was key to getting him close to the lead for the final stretch of restarts. This team has a lot to build on and I’m hoping there is not second place hang over.
For the team of Denny Hamlin, they showed a lot of guts making calls late to put them in a position to win. It was just worn tires were not his friend and the nail in the coffin was spinning his tires on the second to final restart. That made him loose track position he could never get back. It will be interesting what Joe Gibbs does with his crew chiefs, as a major swap seems evident.
While Newman’s crew came through at the end, Joey Logano’s team failed him at the end. Well, you can’t blame the crew too much for the side of the car giving way, but because of that, the car fell off the jack, and a lot of valuable time was lost trying to get it back in the air. He will be left with dwelling on what could have been had that executed as planned, but there is always next year.
This new format really puts the television producers in a small box for their finale coverage. Luckily I had a vested interest in two of the final four drivers, so I didn’t mind the extremely bias coverage of them. I could see how someone who was a Jimmie Johnson fan, for example, could get frustrated with the coverage. That said, it is the title and that is more important than whatever position Johnson (for this example) could have gotten. Tough spot for NASCAR and ESPN, but based on the early numbers, I don’t think many are complaining.
Congratulations are in order for Brad Keselowski, who is the first loser. He was able to rise to fifth place and with Jeff Gordon can just think about what could have been had they made it into the finale. Well, just hopefully they don’t think about that together, because that could get ugly.
As much as I would like a Super Bowl like feel of moving the season finale among many tracks, Homestead does provide a lot of action and options for drivers. You can run high, low, middle, and even push it four wide, and we didn’t see many big accidents because of that. The racing was hard and fast, just the way it needs to be for the title.
Looking at the history of close point battles, you could put this one at the top because of the one point difference between Harvick and Newman. Realistically that was fabricated by the rules, so I would throw that out on that level. Looking overall I would rate this as the top four best season finales: 1992 when Alan Kulwicki out smarts Bill Elliott, 2004 the first Chase where Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson all went neck and neck with Busch prevailing, this title fight, and the 2011 Tony Stewart/Carl Edwards duel that ended with Stewart rising the occasion.
Kevin Harvick flat out dominated the Quicken Loans 500 from the Phoenix International Raceway. He led 264 of the 312 laps and punched his ticket into the Chase finale with his win. Joining Harvick with a shot at the title at Homestead next weekend is Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman.
Here are some observations on the Chase and this weekend’s race:
Anything For A Championship
If the past few weeks haven’t been indicators of the pressure teams and drivers are under, today provided another example of that. While there were no post-race fights on pit road, Ryan Newman did everything he could to wrestle 11th place from Kyle Larson, which included a slide job into Larson to get the spot. Different from last weekend, Larson did get into the wall, but still salvaged a 13th place finish. Dirty move by Newman? No way, he’s going for a title and it is racing. Larson might not disagree, but he’ll understand in time like Newman said.
Second Just Isn’t Good Enough
Jeff Gordon finished second and became the first loser when it came to the Chase cut off. He might have tied Kevin Harvick for fourth place, but Harvick’s win gets him in. After last weekend, there will be lots Gordon will dwell on, but this season has been a major resurgence on his career. Capping off with another Homestead win will go a long way to putting this behind him.
Hamlin And Logano Try To Give It Away
Both Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano tried to give away their positions in the Chase. Hamlin had a tire go down and lost two laps, but battled back to make it in with a top-5 finish. I had already given up on Hamlin, equating him to being toast at one point, and began to wonder where crew chief Darren Grubb might be working next year. They hang on for one more race, but I can’t imagine there will not be changes across the board at Joe Gibbs Racing. Logano had a simple pit miscue, and like Hamlin, he just couldn’t get through the traffic back in the pack fast enough. Both persevered and will look to take home a title.
First Timer Next Weekend
We will have another first time champion when the checkered flag falls next weekend. The only driver of the four that has a NASCAR title on his resume is Kevin Harvick, owning two Nationwide Series championships. A quick look at the title contenders at Homestead, you’ll see by virtue of average finish it is Harvick’s to lose. He’s averaging an 8.08 finished followed by Hamlin (11.22), Newman (17.00), and Logano (20.80). Hamlin though owns two wins at the track versus the zero for everyone else.
Harvick Takes The Record
Kevin Harvick used his dominating performance to move past Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, and Jimmie Johnson to become the all-time lap leader in Sprint Cup Series history at Phoenix. He now has led 978 laps, which is 45 more than Johnson. This is one record that could seesaw over the next couple of years, but it is an impressive list of drivers Harvick got past. Rounding out the top-10 are Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson Continues To Look At 2015
It’s hard to rationalize a four win season as being “terrible,” but when you’re Jimmie Johnson, that’s how the bar is set. Phoenix was another forgettable race for Johnson and his team as an accident knocked him out on lap 235 for a 39th place finish. Dominating last weekend to near last the next has been the exact example of his season.
Ambrose Gears For The End
Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR career has one more race left in it, but he is not going down without a fight. Ambrose picked up his 46th career top-10 finish at Phoenix with a late charge past Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. Coming into Homestead, Ambrose has a lot to be proud with after his eight years in the Sprint Cup Series.
A lot of people questioned letting 72-year old Morgan Shepherd out on the track for his second Sprint Cup Series race of the year. After the performance he put on at New Hampshire, his future running races might be in question.
Shepherd spent most of the day running his Joe Falk Racing Chevrolet several miles per hour off the pace and eventually finished the race running, but 22 laps down. He was not very notable until a lap 211 incident with then second place Joey Logano.
It appeared Shepherd let Logano go on the straightaway, then in the corner as Logano went on the outside of Shepherd, Shepherd drifted up the track and hit the left rear of Logano. The contact, spin, and damage left Logano with a 40th place finish, one worse than what Shepherd finished at.
After the wreck, Logano was visibly upset, but as he talked to TNT, he admitted there’s not much that could be done at that point.
“I got taken out by the slowest car out there. You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in. Whatever. I don’t know. We will fix it and go at it again. Daytona is Daytona and everyone else crashed but this week – we were doing a good job after having a left rear flat in practice and we were running second with our backup car. I can’t get too mad at ourselves over this. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing,” commented Logano.
I understand that Shepherd, a four time Sprint Cup Series winner, has the right to race if there’s a car owner willing to put him in the car. The question I have is when you have a driver who is basically a moving road block, why let him continue to run?
I’m also surprised that Shepherd’s team didn’t start and park the event. While I give them credit for running the full distance, obviously his incident with Logano calls into question if NASCAR has to get involved if he wants to race in future events.
Engine issues at Chicagoland put Joey Logano and his Penske Racing team in a deep hole for the Chase. They were able to get a little bit out of last week’s 14th place finish, he was aided by Kasey Kahne’s problems to get out of the basement to 12th place in points.
Sunday at the Dover International Speedway, Logano came home third in the AAA 400. It was his first top-5/top-10 finish since a second place finish at Atlanta four races ago.
“We are concerned about points because we’re in the Chase and we’re not out of it yet. I just saw we’re 66 points back now so we gained a couple, which isn’t many, but these are the days we’ve got to have. We’re back on track. The last three weeks have been a little tougher for us and coming here to Dover, my favorite race track, this Shell/Pennzoil team did everything they had to do to get that Ford up front and get closer,” Logano told reporters after finishing the race.
The issue Logano had was a car that wasn’t good for the short term, but the long term runs. He was aided by a long stretch of green flag laps just before the end of the race.
“Our biggest issue is we didn’t take off with really good speed, but after 15-16-17 laps it came to me and it was really fast. It just took a little bit too long there on the last restart. I was able to get up to third, I was in the right lane, but by the time my car came to me I was too late. We were the fastest car the last six laps, but it doesn’t really matter when you can barely see the leaders. Unfortunately, that was our day, but, overall, we can’t be too disappointed with a third-place finish. It’s just that you always want to be a little better,” Logano explained.
Building confidence is what Logano and his team need to do. Capitalizing on the momentum they get from the third place finish will be key to how they finish the Chase off.
“Momentum is built back up. Richmond, Chicago and then Loudon weren’t our best races. At Chicago we had a fast car, but we blew up there. Really, if we had that Chicago race back, we’d be in the mix for this championship. Unfortunately, those things happen, but we’re slowly but surely making up from that right now,” commented Logano.
The Hollywood Casino 400 is next up from the Kansas Speedway for the Sprint Cup Series. The action gets underway Sunday, October 6th, at 2:00 PM EST and can be seen live on ESPN.