Categories
News

Brad Keselowski Executes Late-Race Pass to win at Indy

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It’s been a historical two weeks for Brad Keselowski. The No. 2 Ford driver executed a hard-nosed pass of Denny Hamlin with two laps remaining in Monday’s rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard to win his first race at prestigious Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one week after visiting Victory Lane in the “crown-jewel” Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Keselowski earned Team Penske its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the track to go with the storied organization’s 17 Indianapolis 500 trophies – including one this May.

The 34-year-old Michigan native finished runner-up in this race last year and positioned himself to one-up the effort thanks to a late-race pit strategy call by his crew chief Paul Wolfe. On a restart with three laps remaining, the 2012 Cup champion muscled by Hamlin on fresher tires. He beat runner-up Erik Jones – who later maneuvered around Hamlin – to the start/finish line by 0.904 seconds.

“It’s incredible, last year I lost this race almost exactly the same way,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane after joining his team in climbing the front stretch grandstands to celebrate with the loyal crowd.

“It feels really good to make up for it and to get Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m so happy for Team Penske.”

Hamlin finished third, while Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five. Hamlin and Bowyer – who raced for the lead much of the final stage – each led a race-high 37 laps.

The race marked the end of the regular season with points leader Kyle Busch – who finished eighth Monday – officially collecting the regular season trophy. He and seven-race winner Harvick top the points standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series begins its 10-week Playoff run this Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We had a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs but fought our way back,” the six-race winner and two-time Indy winner Busch said just before receiving the regular season trophy.

“In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good day considering we get to go home with some hardware.”

The third member of the sport’s “Big 3” this season is four-race winner Martin Truex Jr. The reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion goes into the playoffs ranked third, although he only completed 41 laps at Indy – his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota officially finishing last in the 40-car field having to retire early with a brake problem.

With the two wins, Keselowski jumps into fourth place in the Playoff standings just ahead of the season’s other two-time winner Bowyer.

Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman were the only two drivers that hadn’t secured a Playoff berth prior to the drop of the Indy green flag, but both advanced to the 16-driver field with 16th and 33rd place efforts at Indy.

“We raced up into the top 10 a couple times, we just didn’t have the speed to run up front,” said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“We’ll go home and work hard and be ready for Las Vegas. I’m just proud I’ve made every Playoff since NASCAR started them. …we have a lot of experience and I think our experience in pressure-packed situations will help us.”

There were plenty of pressure-packed situations in Monday’s race, including two at the end of the day stymying the chances of a couple frontrunners.

Ryan Blaney, who ran among the front-runners most of the day, missed his pit stall on the final stop and ended up 11th in his Team Penske Ford. And former series champion Matt Kenseth, who seemed to revitalize the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford operation this weekend, had pit problems as well on the final stop with the car falling off the jack.

Still it was a positive day for the team. Kenseth led five laps and scored the first stage win of the season for the No. 6 Ford, capturing the Stage 2 checkered flag just ahead of Chase Elliott and Jones. His 12th-place effort was a season best for him and a promising sign for Roush-Fenway Racing.

Three former Brickyard winners – Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman – kept the closing laps suspenseful as well. Because they came into the race ranked outside the Playoffs’ top-16, a win would’ve eliminated Bowman from the postseason. They finished seventh, ninth and tenth respectively.

Keselowski’s win was the first for Ford Motor Company at Indianapolis since 1999.

Categories
News

Flawless Execution on Pit Road Propels Brad Keselowski to Darlington win

DARLINGTON, S.C. – By a matter of inches, Brad Keselowski won the race off pit road under the final caution in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

That narrow margin was all the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford needed to secure a stunning victory in one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ marquee races.

On the flip side, Keselowski’s first victory of the season left Kyle Larson bitterly disappointed. Larson led 284 of the 367 laps in addition to winning the first and second stages of the race. But the work of Keselowski’s pit crew proved decisive.

Keselowski controlled the final restart on Lap 348 and pulled away, as Larson faded to third and had to fend off a determined charge by Kevin Harvick to hold that position. It was Joey Logano who passed Larson for second on Lap 352, giving team Team Penske a 1-2 finish and the organization its first win at Darlington since 1975.

“The 42 (Larson) was really strong,” said Keselowski, who picked up his first victory at the 1.366-mile track and the 25thof his career in a No. 2 Ford sporting a throwback paint scheme reminiscent of the Miller Genuine Draft machine Rusty Wallace drove during his tenure at Team Penske. “I felt like whoever came off pit road first at the end was going to win the race.

“My team nailed the last pit stop… We stayed in position the whole race with great strategy to keep us from falling back. We didn’t have the long-run speed we wanted, but the short runs were great, and we were there when it counted.”

Keselowski, who also won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series event, came off pit road on Lap 345 three-wide with Larson and Logano, less than a foot ahead of Larson.

“It’s always important to come out the leader off pit road to be the control car on the restart,” Larson said. “I felt like, if I had been in clean air, I would have been all right. I was just loose that last run and allowed Joey to get by.

“I knew the only weakness we would have throughout the race was a short run, and that’s what it kind of came down to… It stings, for sure. I want to win every race, but I want to win the Southern 500 really bad. It would have been cool to do that, but at the same time, to bring a (dominant) car to the race track like we did this weekend is something to be proud of and a big confidence booster.”

Chase Elliott ran fifth behind Harvick. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray and pole winner Denny Hamlin completed the top 10. Kyle Busch retained the series lead by 39 points over Harvick.

Jeffrey Earnhardt spun in Turns 1 and 2 to cause the sixth caution on Lap 344, and that was the yellow that gave Keselowski the opportunity to grab the victory. The only serious incident of the race occurred on Lap 312 when Clint Bowyer plowed into Ryan Newman near the apex of Turns 3 and 4.

Newman was trying to get to pit road, and neither Bowyer nor his spotter saw a signal to that effect.

“I hit the 31 (Newman) really hard,” Bowyer said. “I guess he was pitting or something, and it’s a product of this place… I didn’t see him wave, but like I said, when you come off (Turn) 2 and you pass 37 lapped cars and you get your bearings and everything else—maybe he waved, maybe he didn’t—I didn’t see it.”

The Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson and William Byron retired from the race with engine issues. Johnson finished 39th with what he believed was an oil pump problem, but that came after the No. 48 Chevrolet suffered a loose wheel, and after Johnson was penalized for a subsequent commitment line violation.

Accordingly, there’s a mathematical possibility the seven-time champion could miss the Playoffs when the field is set next Sunday at Indianapolis.

“I don’t want to be in this position,” Johnson said. “We have been around this spot (14th in the standings) for a while. We’ve seen it coming. We just need to transfer, and, honestly, I think our cars are capable of running in the top five. 

“If we can just start minimizing mistakes, my own included, we’ll be much better off and have a shot.”

Categories
News

Opportunistic Brad Keselowski Gets First NASCAR Xfinity Win at Darlington Raceway

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Brad Keselowski took the lead in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway when the two cars in front of him tangled off Turn 2.

That was all the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford needed to collect his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at the Track Too Tough to Tame.

From a restart on Lap 91, Keselowski chased pole winner and race leader Ross Chastain, who won the first and second stages in his maiden run in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. On Lap 104, Keselowski pulled ahead in Turn 3 but brushed the outside wall as Chastain regained the top spot with a crossover move to the inside.

Keselowski’s bobble allowed Harvick to pass for second, but on Lap 111, Harvick and Chastain collided off Turn 2 and handed the top spot to Keselowski, who held it the rest of the way.

With his third victory in five starts this season and the 39th of his career, Keselowski knocked a significant item off his bucket list. Darlington and Sonoma had been the only two active NASCAR tracks where Keselowski had raced without a national touring series win.

“I really wanted to run this race for that reason,” said Keselowski, who beat runner-up Cole Custer to the finish line by .738 seconds. “I just haven’t been that great here at the (Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup level, and I’m trying to get better.

“This is such a huge confidence boost.”

Had Chastain and Harvick not wrecked together, the ending might have been quite different.

“I could keep up with Ross, but I couldn’t pass him—he was so fast,” Keselowski said. “Tried to make the move and brushed the wall, and he got back by me, and then they had the wreck off of (Turn) 2, and I was able to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Up until Lap 111, Chastain had a dream race going in his first trip in an Xfinity car capable of battling for the lead. Harvick made a move to Chastain’s inside through Turns 1 and 2. Unwilling to give up the top spot, Chastain stayed in the gas within inches of the right side of Harvick’s No. 98 Ford.

Harvick’s car drifted up into Chastain’s No. 42 Chevrolet, which bounced off the outside wall at the exit from Turn 2. Chastain then clipped the rear of Harvick’s Ford and sent it spinning. Harvick expressed his displeasure by parking in Chastain’s pit stall before exiting the race.

“I tried to stay as low as I could, and he just rode on my door,” Harvick explained later. “That’s just a really inexperienced racer and a really bad move there and got the air and got on beside me and just kept going up the race track. I couldn’t do anything with the wheel.

“So you’ve got a really inexperienced guy in a really fast car and made a really bad move, and then wrecked me down the back straightaway and hooked me to the right. That’s probably the reason that he’ll never get to drive many of them again.”

Chastain hadn’t seen a replay of the incident when he gave his assessment after finishing the race in 25th, two laps down.

“I got to race with these guys, and I feel like I was holding my own with ‘em,” Chastain said. “I was really happy to be out there racing with ‘em… I was just trying to race. I’ll have to see the film, and if I made a mistake, it’s on me. I was the leader there, and I was just trying to race.”

Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler completed the top five. Justin Allgaier finished seventh and retained the series lead by 16 points over Sadler in second and 17 over Custer in third. Christopher Bell fell out early after spinning in Turn 3 and colliding with Daniel Hemric’s Chevrolet and dropped to fourth in the standings.

With two races left before the cutoff for the Xfinity Playoffs, Matt Tifft (eighth Saturday), Brandon Jones (12th) and Ryan Truex (13th) locked themselves into Playoff berths on points.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Could Darlington Save Keselowski’s Season?

For Brad Keselowski, the Southern 500 has been much-like his chase for a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

He’s showed strength, leading laps in each of the last three races at Darlington Raceway, similar to how the Michigan-native has been strong in the playoffs. However, the result is always has been the same, coming up short in every attempt.

Though a win at the track this year could mean more than ever.

Through 24 races, 2018 has stood to be one of Keselowski’s worst as a full-time driver under owner Roger Penske.

The No. 2 team has only captured six top-fives and has continuously struggled to find momentum. However, the most significant stat may be about the zero in the win column.

While the Team Penske organization has only one win (Joey Logano, Talladega), Keselowski seems to be affected the most, as he currently sits eighth in the points standings, the lowest of the team’s three drivers.

It’s especially surprising considering with dominance in recent years. While the 34-year-old hasn’t been the best of the sport, he has still scored three or more wins in the last two seasons, proving to be a constant threat.

It is not time to hit the panic button yet, but it might be soon; with only two regular-season races left, they need to establish momentum.

This is where Darlington comes in to play.

A victory in a crown jewel race would be huge for morale, but this isn’t the Daytona 500, where the restrictor plate track equalizes the competition. You will likely need either the best car or strategy to win this event; while Keselowski’s performance has been up to par, it’s not out of the question to think of him as a contender.

As pointed above, he has a good history at “The Lady in Black,” and Penske has seen an improvement recently with Ryan Blaney, so it is possible.

So, let’s say Keselowski wins the 500-mile race. What would this mean heading into the playoffs?

Everything.

A win Sunday night would be a game-changer heading into the final 11-races of the season. Suddenly, the 2012 champ has confidence at arguably the best time, and maybe it allows him and his team to establish the consistency they have been lacking to contend with the “Big Three.”

Now, it’s not a guarantee that a win gives him a second championship but, it would certainly be a statement that the No. 2 team can still get the job done.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Consumers Energy 400

While there shouldn’t be any questions about the speed of Kevin Harvick, the remaining doubts were certainly erased on Sunday when he dominated the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

A lot has been made about the big three – Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Harvick – and which of those will go into the playoffs with the most momentum. With the final 10 races consisting of a majority of intermediates, including the host of the season-finale, this was a message sent to the field that you better up your game if you’re going to walk away with the championship trophy this season. That’s showcased by the Stewart-Haas Racing team now boasting the most playoff points with 40, compared to Busch’s 35.

That said, Busch ran up front as well on Sunday as he was third in the final rundown with a brand new chassis from Joe Gibbs Racing. Clearly, they haven’t pushed it far enough based on what we saw though.

In-between the pair was a familiar foe of them both in the form of Brad Keselowski, who turns the ship around with a runner-up after three finishes outside of the top-15.

The biggest surprise here is the fact that Team Penske has only won a single race this year, coming at Talladega Superspeedway with Joey Logano. But that’ll happen when three competitors from other organizations are dominating, I suppose. After all, Hendrick Motorsports got their first win of the year last weekend. Team Penske may be next to break through as Ryan Blaney joined Keselowski in the top-five with a fifth.

Austin Dillon has a win this year, as he opened the year in victory lane with the Daytona 500. Since then, we haven’t heard much from the Richard Childress Racing driver. However, he showed speed with a fourth so the next few weeks could be interesting to see where the momentum goes.

While there are plenty of talking points when it comes to the playoffs, the actual race itself was just average. You had some side-by-side battles for position, but mostly the field was spread out throughout the day and strategy at the end only adding a touch of spice. Also, at times when you’d have battles in the pack, NBC just focused on the top-five single-file so that made nap time more attractive.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Brad Keselowski Triumphs in NASCAR Xfinity Race at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. – Controlling the race on a succession of restarts from the inside lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski pulled away in overtime to win Saturday’s Alsco 300, the 11th NASCAR Xfinity Series event of the season.

After a debris caution on Lap 199 of a scheduled slowed the action for the 12th time, Keselowski led the field to the restart on Lap 203 and, with a strong push from runner-up and fellow Ford driver Cole Custer, broke away to a lead of six car lengths.

Keselowski took the checkered flag under caution when Tyler Reddick spun his no. 9 Chevrolet off Turn 2 for the second time and collected the Ford of Ty Majeski in the process.

Keselowski has won in each of his last three Xfinity Series starts dating to last year’s fall race at Richmond, and he’s the first repeat winner of 2018. The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford won for the fourth time at Charlotte and for the 38th time in his career.

The race was delayed for more than an hour by a pop-up rainstorm that drenched the track after a wreck involving Dylan Lupton and Majeski caused the 10th caution on Lap 167. The rain provided a brief respite on a day that was unusually hot and humid.

“So far, it’s been a great week,” said Keselowski, whose team owner, Roger Penske, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. “I couldn’t ask for a much better start for Memorial Day weekend than to bring home a win…

“I think it was definitely a perseverance day. It was brutally hot out there. The humidity was just killer. I usually don’t get that hot in a race car, but it was smokin’ out there. It’s just part of the challenge of racing on days like this, and glad to bring it home first, that’s for sure.”

Christopher Bell lined up next to Keselowski for the final restart, but Bell failed to launch in the tri-oval, and Custer surged into the runner-up position. Bell held third, Ty Dillon came home fourth, and series leader Elliott Sadler capped an adventurous day with an unlikely top five, given that problems with the handling of his No. 1 Chevrolet had dropped him outside the top 20 during an earlier run.

Sadler also had issues with his air-conditioning unit, which started blowing hot air, compounding the effects of the heat.

Bell had been closing fast on Keselowski late in the race before the 12th caution.

“I was just heartbroken when I saw that piece of debris fly off those lapped cars,” Bell said. “I felt like we were starting to make some runs there. I was getting the top going pretty good in (Turns) 1 and 2. I felt like I was going to have a shot at him if the yellow didn’t come out.

“Obviously, when the yellow came out, I did have a shot at him, and I just didn’t execute on that last restart… I think me and Cole had the winning strategy (pitting later than Keselowski for new tires). We just didn’t get it done. The old Cup guy beat us.”

For the record, Keselowski turned 34 in February.

Kyle Busch led 93 laps and won the first two stages of the race, but after pitting for fresh tires under caution on Lap 158 and restarting eighth on Lap 162, Busch ran out of room trying to pass Lupton to the inside approaching Turn 1 and slammed into the inside SAFER barrier.

Busch recovered to finish eighth.

Notes: Keselowski was racing without the services of spotter Joey Meier who was attending his son’s graduation from Navy basic training. Jefferson Hodges, director of competition at Rev Racing, filled in for Meier, who won’t be available to spot for Keselowski in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600… Ryan Truex, Daniel Hemric, Busch, Matt Tifft and Kaz Grala competed the top 10. It was the first Xfinity event for Grala’s No. 61 Fury Race cars team… Sadler retained the series lead by 38 points over Bell in second.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR’s Thrilling All-Star Event Brings Sport to Internal Struggle

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has primarily been forgettable to this point. Of course, there have been some exciting and notable moments for the Cup tour this year — Austin Dillon’s dump and run to win the Daytona 500 is one of them. But for a sport trying to find its footing after years of declining TV ratings, drops in attendance and the departure of its superstars, the racing merely has not been able to live up to expectations. And it seems as if NASCAR knows it.

Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star race was something different. With a new rules package that featured a restrictor plate and body modifications to increase drag and downforce to promote closer racing and slingshot passing, the All-Star race, for once in a long time, met the hype.

The event, simply put, was thrilling. Considering Charlotte Motor Speedway’s lack of entertaining racing in its recent Cup events, this race looked as if it were at a new venue. Drivers were able to slingshot for the lead, frequently race three wide, draft with other cars to advance their position, and unlike so many races in recent memory, the leader never got away from the field. As Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer said after the event, “it passed the eye test.”

But it also passed the data test, too. In 2018, the All-Star race featured 38 green flag passes for the lead. In 2017, there were zero.

So what’s next? In what is clearly a much more entertaining rules package and considering NASCAR’s track record of constant tweaks to the rule book, the conversation immediately moves to when and how much this package will be used in the future.

Intermediate tracks like Charlotte have been the bane of NASCAR’s existence in recent years. As the most common track on the schedule, these 1.5-mile speedways don’t entertain and certainly haven’t been giving NASCAR the boost it so desperately needs.

It would seem like a no-brainer for NASCAR to implement this rules package as soon as possible, which would likely be 2019 to give teams enough notice, which is fair. But, unfortunately for the fans that enjoyed what they saw on Saturday, even this looks like a challenge because of a lack of buy-in from the drivers.

“I hate to admit it, but the package was kinda fun,” Kyle Larson told FS1 following the event. “I’d hate to go this slow every week, but for select tracks, it was pretty good.”

The morning after the event, Brad Keselowski echoed similar thoughts on Twitter.

And before the race, Kyle Busch gave his point of view, as reported by Motorsport.com.

“I can certainly see it (used more), it’s not necessarily what I signed up for to be a race car driver to bring the whole field closer together and have it dictated by some type of a plate race.”

So this is where the sport’s internal struggle is. NASCAR, after years of constant tweaks to the rules package to make events more compelling, finally found something that could be worth pursuing, but there are already subtle hints about keeping it as limited as possible. Granted, it’s only been one race, so it’s early to make these decisions on either side. Still, it’s hard not get excited about what we saw on Saturday. 

People who oppose this rules package argue that slowing the cars down this much makes them too easy to drive and perhaps too much of a gimmick at NASCAR’s highest level. However, the best car and driver of the season, Kevin Harvick, was still able to win Saturday – and while there were many lead changes in the event, he was indeed not easy to pass, or keep behind.

The series runs at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway every year, arguably the extreme of what Charlotte produced on Saturday, yet the same drivers tend to compete and contend for those races. The competitive drivers will always rise to the top. That doesn’t seem gimmicky.

NASCAR has prided itself on increased collaboration with drivers, teams, manufacturers, and other partners in the recent years — that’s great news for the sport. But while NASCAR has to listen to these parties, they also have to govern with what they believe will work best overall. Sometimes, that isn’t what works for the drivers.

Having Saturday’s rules package implemented in some form and for multiple events throughout the year, certainly more than just the All-Star race, would be a huge win for NASCAR and its fans. The sport needs compelling races, and if there are no plans for the schedule to change anytime soon, then something else has to.

The way this rules package will be integrated into NASCAR on a regular basis is undoubtedly complex and to be determined. This method likely won’t work at all intermediate tracks, but preventing the sport from trying it only because drivers don’t want the field to be closer together wouldn’t be fair to fans.

It will likely be some time before NASCAR determines any concrete next steps for the package, but one thing is for sure: once you presented it to the public, you can’t take it away.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @TravisBarend

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Brad Keselowski Overcomes Speeding Penalty to Win at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Neither a speeding penalty nor uncharacteristic rain in the Sonoran Desert could keep Brad Keselowski out of Victory Lane on Saturday at ISM Raceway.

In winning the DC Solar 200 in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start of the season, Keselowski picked up his second victory at the one-mile track and the 37th of his career, fifth most all-time.

The driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford beat Justin Allgaier to the finish line by .530 second in a battle that saw Keselowski, Allgaier, third-place Kyle Busch and fourth-place Christopher Bell all take turns with the upper hand.

“It was a solid team effort,” said Keselowski, who led 66 laps, second only to Allgaier’s 76. “I wasn’t perfect today by any stretch of the imagination, but the car was really strong.

“Really, really good for about 50-60 laps. The last 20 laps it would fall off pretty good but the guys made it count. I am really proud of them.”

The end of the first 45-lap stage, won by Allgaier, brought a red flag for rain lasting 1 hour, 34 minutes, 57 seconds. When racing resumed under caution, Keselowski drew a penalty for speeding on pit road and restarted on Lap 53 at the back of the field.

That paved the way for Busch to win Stage 2-which ended in a one-lap shootout after a rain delay of 25 minutes, 21 seconds-as Keselowski worked his way back to the third position. The final stage ran caution-free for 104 laps, with plenty of ebb and flow between the contending drivers.

Staggered pit strategies put Allgaier in the lead for the final restart on Lap 97, but Keselowski overtook him on Lap 143. With an excellent long-run car, Bell fought his way into the lead on Lap 164, passing Keselowski in a side-by-side drag race to the stripe.

But Keselowski regained the top spot on Lap 179 near the end of a long cycle of green flag pit stops and stayed comfortably ahead of Allgaier the rest of the way.

“It was disheartening to take the lead and fall back after the pit stop,” said Bell, whose car couldn’t keep up with those of his rivals on fresh tires. “I struggled on the short run getting up to speed, and those guys drove away from me.”

Allgaier found a silver lining in his second-place finish.

“I learned something from Brad running behind him,” said Allgaier, who chipped away at Keselowski’s lead before time ran out. “I was able to run him back down from what I learned.”

Allgaier also gained ground on JR Motorsports teammates Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick, who entered the race tied for the series lead. Sadler and Reddick started the event from the back of the field, Sadler because of an engine change and Reddick in a backup car after damaging his primary No. 9 Chevrolet during the first round of qualifying on Saturday.

Sadler, who ran ninth as the first driver one lap down, retained the series lead by one point over Reddick, who finished 10th. Allgaier is third in the standings, seven points back, and Bell trails the leader by eight points in fourth.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Penske Off To Strong Start

It may be early in the 2018 campaign, however, what Team Penske, along with the aligned Wood Brothers Racing, has done has been impressive to start the season.

You see the transition to becoming a four-car team can be a difficult one.

While it may seem like a great idea to field an additional car for a talented driver, the risk has tended to outweigh the rewards. In some scenarios, one team will not perform to same standards as it’s teammates. In others, the entire organization takes a competitive step back from the success it once had.

Championship winning teams such as Richard Childress Racing, Stewart-Haas, and Hendrick Motorsports, have all faced issues with fielding four full-time efforts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Three races into the new campaign, the four cars prepared in Team Penske shop haven’t skipped a beat. Given the significant changes they went through during the offseason, which included bringing Paul Menard to drive the No. 21 and creating an entirely new team for Ryan Blaney, it says a lot about them to be doing well.

The success has surprised some as they weren’t a dominant team in 2017 (winning only five races) and had a driver miss the playoffs (Joey Logano); many wondered if they would continue to fall behind their competition. Even Penske’s own, Brad Keselowski expressed concerns with Ford’s ability to compete with the other manufacturers. The 2012 champion went as far to say they could be in for a “drubbing.”

So, where do they stand after three races?

Two of the four drivers are in the top-five in the points standings (Logano, second, Blaney, third) and, Keselowski and Menard, are not far behind currently ranked seventh and ninth. Notably, they are the only team/alliance to have all drivers affiliated with them in the top-10 and while they haven’t won any races, yet, each week they have made their presence know.

Keselowski started off the year with a win in The Clash and has been the only driver not named Kevin Harvick to capture a stage in the last two weeks. Blaney, like his former owner, scored a victory early in the Can-Am Duels, and earning playoff points during the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Logano doesn’t own any wins or playoff points, but he may the most consistent of all, as he is the only driver throughout all of NASCAR’s top-tier series to score three-straight top-10 finishes in the opening three races.

Then there’s Menard, who many had written off after lackluster years at RCR, who has quickly adjusted to his new role at Wood Brothers Racing, with two top-10s (one less than he had all season) and has seemed to pick up right where Blaney left off.

The team’s early success should be taken note of because if they are doing this good now, they may get better as the organization continues to adjust to the changes. You look at how expansion turned the Joe Gibbs/Furniture Row Racing alliance to a dominant force in 2017; it’s not far-fetched to think Team Penske can do the same.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

While Daytona is an animal on its own, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway is believed to be the start of the real race season for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

After dominating the past couple of years but missing out on a win, Kevin Harvick got to see the Georgia victory lane for the second time in his career. Really, this weekend was all about the veteran as he dominated both the Cup race, and the NASCAR XFINITY Series Rinnai 250.

Throughout the event, drivers battled back and forth for position as it didn’t become a simple parade of cars around the speedway. There were passes to be seen, as competitors tried to balance running hard and not wearing out their tires. The threat of weather played a role, too, with the battle for the lead turning three-wide with about 120 laps to go. 

Like a good intermediate race, there was also strategy involved as Denny Hamlin went a different route than the others. His crew chief Mike Wheeler elected to go for a two-stop strategy, versus three like his competitors. After pitting, it cycled out that he was second, rather than sixth if he would’ve followed the original course.

While Fords were seen to have a disadvantage last year – just ask Brad Keselowski as he made plenty of comments during the second half of the season, they swept the top-three spots once the event was over. As a result, it seems the tables have turned, according to Denny Hamlin.

Truthfully, any arguments do not have foundation as neither Toyota or Ford made any changes from last to this season. Chevrolet was the only manufacture to do so, introducing the Camaro ZL1 to the Cup Series. It did not play as warranted on Sunday, as Ryan Newman was strong early but faded, and none of their drivers played a real factor in the battle for the win. 

The team hit hardest by Chevrolet’s change has to be Hendrick Motorsports. None of their four drivers qualified or practice well during the weekend, and all of them spent the majority of the event outside of the top-10. Heck, even Jimmie Johnson went for a spin off the corner. They did have one saving grace, as Chase Elliott got a little stronger during the race’s second half, squeezing out a 10th-place finish.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Elliott said. “Fighting to stay on the lead lap is not where you want to be. We will go to work and great job by our NAPA team today to salvage what we could.  I don’t know how much more we really could have got there, maybe a spot or two there at the end, but I felt like we did a pretty good job making the most of what we had.”

Whether there is hope for the future, that is yet to be seen by Elliott did say he has an idea of what his team needs to do better.

ALSO….. In an effort to help curb development costs on equipment development, NASCAR began mandating the pit guns used by teams on pit road, handing them three before the race – a front, a rear, and a spare. Three teams had problems throughout the event with them, including race winner Harvick. The issues ultimately proved costly for both Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, though, who both lost valuable track position in the process. Just imagine if down the road one of these issues costs someone a victory.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement