Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Implements Cup Crew Chief Swap

Beginning with the newly titled NASCAR Cup Series and a complete schedule remodeling, the upcoming 2020 season is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and divisive yet. Adding to the plethora of changes coming to NASCAR’s premier series, Team Penske just announced it will be implementing a full crew chief swap amongst it’s three drivers – just one month away from the Daytona 500.

This shakeup in the Penske stable does come as a surprise for series veterans, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as both drivers have been with their crew chiefs since joining the famed team run by Roger Penske. The two drivers have produced much success over their tenure with their respected pairings of Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon (including championships), but looking more in-depth, the bombshell decision makes sense.

The swap doesn’t particularly target needed results in the No. 2 and No. 22 camps, but in the growth and development of Ryan Blaney. Since entering full-time competition in the Cup Series in 2016, the highly touted racing prodigy has yet to progress into the great potential he brings to the table.

Blaney – who had been paired with Jeremy Bullins in 2012 when he joined Team Penske in the NASCAR Xfinity Series  – has only found victory lane three times in the last three season. It’s not to say the driver of the No. 12 has not had moderate success; he just hasn’t produced as well as some of the other young talents in the Cup Series.

With all of this in mind, the swap should be a win for all drivers involved. Blaney will be inheriting an experienced, championship winning crew chief, as Keselowski and Logano will be gifted with a fresh change in scenery to build off of the successes they’ve had in their time at Team Penske.

Matthew T. Thacker

Brad Keselowski & Jeremy Bullins

Let’s begin with the pairing that makes the most sense – Keselowski and Bullins. Bullins makes the jump from the No. 12 team and will now sit atop the pit box of the 2012 Cup Series Champion. The new duo has a history together (and a successful one). From 2012-14, Bullins was at the helm for the Michigan-native for 47 races in the Xfinity Series and the two found victory 14 times.

Keselowski and Wolfe were one of the most dominant forces in the garage area in terms of wins, but one championship and only one additional title-bid over the last eight seasons is not the most desirable. While it couldn’t have hurt to keep the long-standing duo in-tact, the undeniable talents of the 35 year-old driver blended with the past experience of Bullins should add a little more competitive edge to the No. 2 team.

One driving factor for this new pairing is Keselowski’s inability to put together a full season, as of late. The driver of the No. 2 has yet to advance past the Round of 8 since the sport implemented it’s most recent Playoff format. Out of Bullins’ three wins with Blaney, two of them came during the post season.

While Bullins only has three Cup wins to his resume, since joining the Penske organization in 2012, he’s been the crew chief for 10 different drivers and produced 21 additional wins in that span.

Nigel Kinrade

Joey Logano & Paul Wolfe

This is the swap that should have every team on edge in the Cup Series. The 2018 Series Champion will now team up with 2012 Championship winning crew chief, Paul Wolfe. At age 29, Logano is about to enter his prime as an athlete and he already has 23 wins. Wolfe is the winningest crew chief amongst the three being moved around the  organization with 29 victories in the last nine years.

While the new tandem doesn’t have any experience working together, a champion entering his prime mixed with one of the greatest minds in the sport should bode well for the No. 22 team. Over the last three years, the Connecticut-native drove his way to six wins, one title and 64 top-10s (the most out of the three Penske drivers). In that same span, Wolfe guided Keselowski to nine wins and 40 top-fives (the most out of trio of athletes).

The most compelling argument for this pairing can be found in second half successes for both parties. Historically, Keselowski and Wolfe produced most of their success in the early stages of the season and once making it to the Playoffs, found difficulty in advancing past the Round of 8. Logano on the other hand, typically hits his stride mid-way through the season and is often a contender to make it to the Final 4.

It should also be noted that when Wolfe won the championship in 2012, his driver was 28 years old – just one year younger than the driver he is inheriting. This could be a deadly match in 2020 and beyond, all eyes will be on the No. 22 team to be a contender year-round.

Rusty Jarrett

Ryan Blaney & Todd Gordon

When dealing with the growth and development of any athlete, experience is key. With Gordon making the transition from the No.22 team to the No. 12 team, the 26 year-old will indeed be presented with tons of experience. Gordon has been a presence in NASCAR since 2005 when he began his stint as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series. He made the jump to Team Penske in 2011 when he worked alongside series veterans Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

Gordon was able to guide his drivers to 28 NASCAR sanctioned wins and one series title, all with Team Penske. When him and Logano first teamed up in 2013, they found success immediately. In fact, the pair did not have a winless season in their seven year history and in that time compiled the most top-fives and top-10s for Team Penske, in addition to the organization’s most recent championship.

Gordon now finds himself in an all too familiar position while leading the No. 12 team. Much like Logano in 2013, Blaney is a hot, young talent with all eyes on him every week. While he couldn’t do much in the No. 20 car at Joe Gibbs Racing, once Logano signed with Roger Penske and worked alongside Gordon, things started clicking for the driver of the No. 22; now he is consistently one of the best drivers in the field. Mr. Penske and Gordon could be seeking that same magic that came to fruition with Logano.

This crew chief swap should spell success for all teams involved at Team Penske. Whether it be fine-tuning production that has been in the organization, or cracking untapped potential for a young driver, this could be the team to watch for in 2020. Every year, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske are the strongest teams once the season begins at Daytona International Speedway. However, the Ford-led group typically trails off about halfway through the season. Could this be the shakeup that Team Penske needs to compete year-round with Joe Gibbs Racing?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

PREVIEW: The Championship 4 – Busch, Truex, Harvick and Hamlin

AVONDALE, Arizona — Heading into ISM Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had already locked themselves into a spot in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with their Round of 8 wins at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

After 312 laps in the Bluegreen Vacations 500, Denny Hamlin ensured that his storybook season would live to see another chapter after delivering a championship-caliber performance in the Arizona desert, en route to an emotional victory. Kyle Busch will occupy the final spot in Miami after out-pointing reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Joey Logano.

With the field now set, race fans will be treated to two David and Goliath-esque battles in the Sunshine State. In the first, Harvick is the lone-Ford driver set to take on three Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. The next comes in the form of Hamlin going up again all prior series champions in Busch, Truex and Harvick.

Following the duel in the desert, the past series champions participated in a press conference in the media center at ISM Raceway. It was evident these three drivers had been in this position before. While they were somewhat complaint with the media’s questions, they all went about it in a very tight-lipped-manner with their best pokerface.

Take Kyle Busch, who has not had the strongest playoff run in series history. Some would wonder if horrid post-season results thus far have affected his confidence.

“I never questioned our ability or our opportunity to be able to go out there and continue to get ourselves to the Final 4,” the 2015 title-holder said. “We just had a rough road, others teams had rough roads, but we’re here and that’s the good part.”

Rough is a bit of an understatement. Out of the four competitors that advanced to Homestead, Busch is the only driver without a win in the Playoffs. In fact, you’ll have to look all the way back to June at Pocono Raceway to find the driver  of the No. 18’s last victory this season. Although winless, the past series champion has not been awful. He finished runner-up twice in the last nine races, including this past weekend in Arizona, but certainly that’s far from the dominance shown previously.

Looking ahead to the series finale, Truex and Busch shared the same sentiments in a sense that all three Joe Gibbs Racing teams would be working together the week of the championship.

“I feel like we’re all here because we work together,” the driver of the No. 19 said. “Our teams work together really well, we’ve got a great group at Joe Gibbs Racing and I would assume all the way up to Sunday morning we’ll all be working together.”

Busch went on to elaborate that he worked with Carl Edwards back in 2016 and even with Truex last year as future-teammates for the 2019 season.

Harvick chose not to reveal much about his intentions for his 2019 championship plans (and for good reason, sitting wedged between two Gibbs teammates), but he had mentioned that he went into this race weekend at ISM Raceway to prepare for the series finale in 2020.

“I think we’re pretty confident that we’re like a fifth-place car, the winningest driver in ISM Raceway history said. “That’s about what we thought coming in here and that’s about where we were in the first race.”

The trio of drivers were asked about the lack of ability to pass at the 1.5-mile speedway this weekend and all appeared visibly agitated. Truex chimed in muttering “it’s always been that way,” while Busch offered up a classic-Kyle comment saying, “whoever gets the lead… bye-bye!”

The stone-faced past champions didn’t reveal much else. As they vacated the media center, Hamlin entered and was much more generous with his insight and outlook moving forward.

“This is very similar to 2010, in the sense of the cars and the speed that we’ve had this season,” the driver of the No. 11 said. “There’s similarities for sure, but it’s very different. This is a tighter-knit group of guys. I think Chris [Gabehart] takes a lot of pride in assembling these guys from top to bottom. He worked hard to make sure he had the best people possible working on that car.”

Hamlin had nothing but praise to give for his new crew chief for 2019, Chris Gabehart. From weekend one at Daytona International Speedway, Gabehart called a team meeting with a plan in place for the season. After an emotional Daytona 500 win and one of the most dominant seasons in Hamlin’s 15-year career, it seems the driver/crew chief pairing were able to execute these plans with ease.

While the past-series champions are all working with crew chiefs they’ve been coupled together with for many years, Hamlin feels that “having a fresh set of eyes” puts him and Gabehart at an advantage as he makes a bid of his first series title.

The driver of the FedEx Camry is making his first attempt at a championship since the inaugural season of the new Playoff format in 2014. Hamlin recounts his mindset from 2010 when he essentially thought he had the championship locked up against Jimmie Johnson heading into Phoenix and Homestead. The Virginia-native will be going about this a lot different this time around.

“I didn’t prepare for the ‘what if it doesn’t work out,’ I was only going there thinking ‘I’m going to come here, handle business and go to Homestead and get the trophy,'” Hamlin said. “I think over the years – we’re almost 10 years later – I’m just more content with what I’ve accomplished in the series and I don’t need validation of a championship. There’s many more opportunities ahead of me, this is not my last opportunity to win a championship – especially with the relationship that I built with Chris. I see this going a long way. I’m going to enjoy the moment, because all you can ask for when you started the year was an opportunity for a chance to complete for a championship and we have a chance to compete. It’s goal accomplished, now we just got to go out there and do it.”

Hamlin is the only championship contender without and title to his name. Truex, Harvick and Busch enter Homestead with a chance to be the only active driver aside from Johnson with multiple championships at the Cup level.

With the endless amount of storylines heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400, you won’t want to miss the series finale in the final championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski and Logano Speak Out on Comments Made by Bubba Wallace

AVONDALE, Arizona — Throughout the weekend of the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, Bubba Wallace was hounded by the media after accusations of an apparent intentional spin that occurred in the AAA Texas 500 from Texas Motor Speedway.

In a video taken by NASCAR NBC Sports writer, Dustin Long, the driver of the No. 43 – visibly agitated – admitted to intentionally committing the act, but credited his actions to things he learned from Team Penske drivers, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

The drivers of the No.2 and No. 22 Ford Mustangs witnessed the the footage of Wallace’s comments, but we’re puzzled to what incidents he was referring to.

The only incident that came to mind for Logano occurred in the first race in the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway, just two weeks prior.

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion was driven up the track by Denny Hamlin and sandwiched between the right side of the No. 11 and the outside wall down the front stretch. This led to a flat tire and an untimely spin from Logano, which ultimately resulted in the infamous altercation between the driver of the FedEx Camry and the driver of the Shell/Pennzoil Ford at the conclusion of the First Data 500.

“At Martinsville, I got a flat tire,” Logano told POPULAR SPEED. “I’m trying not to crash, trying not to hit anything or get the quarter panels torn up – trying to live to race another day, basically. That’s kind of the thought at that moment, ‘How do I continue my race?'”

The Connecticut-native didn’t have much to say about the comments made by Wallace, although he seemed to have inferred that he may have aided with the on-track spin to prevent further damage.

While Logano opted a more tight-lipped approach to the situation, Keselowski did not shy away from speaking his mind on the accusations and the state of NASCAR, in certain regards.

” I wish he [Wallace] had given more context, because I’m not exactly sure what he’s talking about.,” Keselowski shared with POPULAR SPEED. “I’m guessing he’s talking about Michigan (International Speedway) when I had a flat tire and somehow kept it off the wall – but, that one was savable, it wasn’t by me. I don’t really have a lot of thoughts on it without understanding what he meant.”

The driver of the Miller Lite Ford seemed to defend Wallace and went on to reference NASCAR’s early lineage in a sense that the sport was literally founded off of criminals – bootleggers running moonshine through the Appalachian foothills during the prohibition-era. Keselowski finds it ironic that the sport has transitioned from hard-nosed competitiveness to a  “squeaky-clean perfect” approach.

“It makes you wonder about the days of Dale [Earnhardt] and all the other guys and what they were able to get away with,” the Michigan-native pondered. “Everyone obviously misses Dale, but then I wonder sometimes – if a guy like Dale was around would he even be accepted today?”

Keselowski admitted that this is not all due in part to NASCAR wanting clean and fair racing. He is fully aware that a vast majority of the sport’s revenue is acquired through sponsorships and naturally, partners prefer more ethical and cleaner methods upon representation.

After Long’s video of Wallace went viral on Twitter, the sport’s sanctioning body swiftly took action and slapped the 25-year old driver with a $50,000 fine and a deduction of 50 points from the No. 43 team.

Although NASCAR’s intent was to send a message, don’t expect these penalties to prevent further incidents like this from occurring in the future. Teams are always fighting tooth and nail to get best finish they can attain and that all begins with preserving the car.

While attempts to save the car won’t be as blatant as Wallace’s actions at Texas (See the video below) – we can almost guarantee that drivers will think twice about admitting to guilt. Sometimes the truth does not set you free.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway

There was a lot of discussion to be had about the race at ISM Raceway on Sunday, but you could say the action on-track did not live up to that hype. Despite the speedway’s officials attempts to widen the groove with the PJ1 traction compound, the racing turned into a boring affair.

The restarts brought plenty of drama with drivers all over the track trying to gain ground, but that did not last as they embarked on the long run. The field would get widely spread out, even race leader Denny Hamlin gapping the field by over 10 seconds at one point. The challenges for position seemed to only happen when you had cars falling off the pace, except for a solid battle for 30 laps between Hamlin and Chase Elliott for second near the end of stage two.

The racing was so spread out with the unlikelihood of drama near the end that NASCAR put out a caution for John Hunter Nemechek‘s contact with the outside wall that normally would have been no cause for concern. After all, the Front Row Motorsports driver made it back to pit road without laying down any debris.

Ultimately, Hamlin did what he had to in getting the track position, and having a good handling No. 11 FedEx Camry to utilize the clean air and drive away from the field. Despite restart concerns mid-race with some issues, he also prevailed on the final run to the checkered with three laps to go, securing his position in the Championship 4.

Kyle Busch did try to mount a challenge in the final laps, with some questioning whether he fully drove hard or held back some after being reminded of his Joe Gibbs Racing’s teammate’s position coming to the green. However, if you know Rowdy, he is not a driver to settle for second and he has not won in 21 races.

On the flip side, the worst round of Elliott’s NASCAR career came to an end as he suffered a blown tire, backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the outside wall. After having a bunch of momentum following a great comeback victory at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, the most popular driver failed to finish better than 32nd in the last three races. 

Joey Logano will also be asking himself several questions as he started out fast and led early, but an ill-handling car caused him to fall a lap down mid-way through the event. His Team Penske team says that was simply caused by a half-pound air pressure adjustment, but the complete 180 in the car’s behavior has many other questions being asked.

Though overall, the drivers who deserved to be in the Championship 4 are there. The Big three in Hamlin, Truex, and Busch have made the cut, joined by Kevin Harvick. They currently boost the four best average finishes across all 35 races to date this season and have proven capable of winning. It’s just a matter of who will do it when it counts at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Playoff Drivers are Feeling the Pressure at ISM Raceway with New Traction Compound

AVONDALE, Arizona — The Arizona sun beams down on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage area. Blue skies collide with the outside wall that stretches across the dormant 1.5 mile ISM Raceway. But this is far from a laid back weekend in the Valley of the Sun.

Cup Series crew members are frantically fine tuning their machines and lining up to go through inspection before hitting the track for what will positively be an intense pressure cooker of a race in Avondale, Arizona. While the premier series will only be partaking in a pair of practice sessions this Friday, there is more on the line now than ever to perform well this weekend.

ISM Raceway has been the sight of the semi-final event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit since 2002. But it was announced that in 2020, the track that underwent a $178 million renovation would be the sight of the Championship race weekend.

Why is this race in specific one that every driver had circled on their calendar for the 2019 season?

The 2020 Championship race will be held on November 8th, exactly one year from today. Not only will track conditions be almost identical to this weekend, but the rules package being applied to the Bluegreen Vacation 500 will be the same next year. On top of that, there is a new PJ1 traction compound being applied to the racing surface, which has the entire garage area in a frenzy – and for good reason.

There was a traction compound applied to the previous race at Texas Motor Speedway and drivers like Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott, found out quickly that slipping up in those grooves could get treacherous.

Playoff drivers expressed a plethora of concerns about how the race will play out on November 10th and expect it to be a challenge for all 312 Laps. Even previous Cup Series Champions Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, who are currently in the Championship 4 by upwards of 20 points, are on edge about the competition around them this Sunday.

“We’ll be watching those Trucks and Xfinity races pretty closely,” Logano said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit for it to come in but it looks to me like it will probably come into play in Turns 1 and 2 – it’s pretty high up there in Turns 3 and 4.”

Logano was one of a handful of Playoff drivers who performed well in the AAA Texas 500 with the new traction compound, notching a fourth-place finish. He sits fourth in the standings 20 points to the good and will need a clean race to advance to Homestead-Miami Speedway for a chance to win back-to-back championships.

Busch has the worst average finish in the Playoffs – next to the driver of the No. 22 – with a 13.38 average through eight races . All eyes will be on the No. 18 M&Ms Camry as Busch is currently riding a two-race win streak at the 1.5-mile track with an impressive 2.8 average finish over the last five events at ISM Raceway.

“Here at Phoenix it’s already very challenging and difficult to pass,” Busch said when asked about the PJ1 compound. “We saw that here in the Spring, but we’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a hard fought finish this year and next year at the end.”

Martins Truex Jr. locked himself into the series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway after capturing his third short track win of the season in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway two weeks ago. Normally, Truex could play it safe and focus on the weekend ahead, but the driver of the No. 19 will be far from complacent with a lackluster performance at the track formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway.

“I think it’s on everyone’s mind that this will be the final four race that decides the championship next year, so this race and the Spring race will be very important – especially with the rules package staying the same,” said the 2017 Cup Series Champion. “Everyone’s going to want to get a good head start on next Spring here for sure this weekend.”

The driver from Mayetta, New Jersey was also one of the benefactors of a rewarding finish last weekend at Texas. It should come as no surprise that the championship-caliber driver is one of the few drivers not overly concerned with the traction compound this weekend.

“At some point Sunday we’ll use that traction compound in [Turns] three and four because we typically run a higher line on long green flag runs,” Truex said. “It just depends on if enough guys are running up there and working it in – if that happens it’ll probably get pretty good.”

Playoff drivers below the cutoff line such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin could be pitted with an advantage over drivers like Busch and Logano due to their inherent need to perform well or win for a chance to compete for the 2019 Championship.

Larson was one of the lone drivers in the Cup Series in favor of the PJ1 compound application last weekend and he is feeling confident heading into the Bluegreen Vacations 500 this Sunday.

“I feel like there’s nobody better in our series in terms of searching for lanes and grooves to make your car better,” the driver of the No. 42 said. “If it burns in quick, I think I’ll really benefit from it.”

Talladega Superspeedway winner and racing prodigy, Blaney, revealed that he believes restarts could get even more hectic than normal this Sunday due to the track compound application.

“In the Spring you saw those wild four-five wide racing on restarts, but it’s going to be even more interesting this year especially with the stuff they put down on [Turns] one and two up top,” the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford said. “I think people are going to be using that top lane later in the day and it’s really going to affect restarts.”

The 25-year old started from the pole at ISM Raceway earlier this year and finished third with a legitimate shot to win. Blaney also reiterated that he had been pushed around quite a bit in that race and that he intends to return the favor and be one of the aggressors on those climatic restarts.

Hamlin, who finds himself 20 points below the cutoff line, was deemed one of the 2019 favorites for the Championship after an impeccable season. The 38-year old found trouble at both Martinsville and Texas Motor Speedway, but his chances really took a hit when he accidentally got caught up in the traction compound in the AAA Texas 500.

The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Camry had some strong words about the PJ1 application and even tried taking matters into his own hands following the race at Texas.

“I discussed with NASCAR that you’d have a better show from beginning to end if they didn’t add anything after the Xfinity race,” Hamlin shared. “Those cars did a really good job burning it in and it was actually really good at that time – it would’ve been great to start the Cup race with.”

Hamlin went on to further explain that the traction compound took hundreds of laps to properly develop last week and it was really slick – hence why when he got loose in re-application and crashed. With 312 Laps at a 1.5-mile track, the Cup Series may not have have the luxury of waiting hundreds of laps for the compound to burn in.

The Virginia-native boasts a series-leading average finishing position of 9.2 through 34 of 36 races this season and will need to replicate more of that magic this Sunday to continue his dominant stretch into Miami.

If the prior Playoff Round finales at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway are any indication of what to expect at ISM Raceway, then fans are in for a dramatically intense race at Zoomtown U.S.A. With two only spots available before Championship weekend at Homestead and teams already stressing about the PJ1 traction application, you won’t want to miss the Bluegreen Vacations 500 from ISM Raceway at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time on NBC.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Crew Member Suspended Following Logano-Hamlin Altercation

While the fans were entertained by the theatrics following the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a Team Penske crew member will missing the action at Texas Motor Speedway as a result.

Dave Nichols Jr., a tire technician for Joey Logano’s No. 22 team, has been suspended for a single Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. His role in the altercation violated Section 12.8.1.C of the 2019 NASCAR Rule Book, a behavioral penalty that addresses “member-to-member confrontation with physical violence.”

After finishing ninth in the First Data 500, Logano went down to speak with Denny Hamlin as he was unhappy with the contact between the pair coming off of turn four, resulting in Logano suffering a flat tire and a spin.  

As the two drivers went back and forth, Nichols Jr. pulled Hamlin from behind, causing him to fall over.

“We were having a discussion and everything was civil and then like Joey (Logano) does, he gives a little push and runs away,” Hamlin said afterwards. “That’s Joey. I mean he said ‘you want to go?’ I said ‘yes, I’m here,’ but then he runs away.”

Logano stated he shoved Hamlin due to being mad, but regretted the move afterwards.

“Like I said, that wasn’t as professional as I should be,” he commented. “I wanted to have the conversation, but, like I said, the answers he was giving I felt wasn’t good enough and made me more mad.”

Although the slogan from NASCAR has been “boys, have at it,” it is meant to remain between the drivers.

“You had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

The penalty was accepted by Team Penske, with crew chief Todd Gordon shouldering the blame.

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers,” Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.”

This is not the first incident between the pair, as Hamlin was unhappy with how Logano raced him a couple weeks ago at Dover International Speedway multiple laps down. They also crossed paths on two occasions in 2013 at Bristol Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Can Team Penske Recapture Late Season Magic At Darlington?

It is no question that Team Penske is a powerhouse in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. However, as of late, the organization seems to step behind some of the other top teams in the sport.

Brad Keselowski has not been to victory lane since his win at Kansas Speedway in May and has only had one top-five in the last seven races. His teammate Joey Logano had a win at Michigan International Speedway in June, but has had just three top-10’s and one top-five since including a current run of four straight events with a finish of 13th or worse. Then there is Ryan Blaney, who has yet to see victory lane this year and has only led 12 laps since Talladega Superspeedway in April.

It is not all bad news though, as the team is heading into a stretch of races that could be argued propelled them to their championship last season.

While many will remember the impressive run by Keselowski, who went on a three-race win streak starting with Darlington Raceway, but his two teammates were solid as well.

Logano finished runner-up in the Southern 500 and led laps in the playoff opener at Las Vegas before finishing fourth. Blaney was able to start a five-race streak of top-10 starts, and also scored a top-five in Vegas.

While stats are all fine and good, it is also worth remembering where this team was at a year ago which may bring feeling a sense of déjà vu. Why is this all sounding familiar? It is because of this a very similar position to where they were a year ago.

Team Penske was not the best team in the sport last year; they were again just behind a dominant team like Joe Gibbs Racing. However, after this upcoming three-race stretch, there was no questioning the ability of this team. They were the ones with the championship at the end of the season.

These are three drivers who get good when the pressure of the season begins to heat up.

Team Penske has had a driver in the Championship 4 in four of the last five season, despite not being the most dominant on a weekly basis. This is not anything new, which is important that we keep an eye on this team that is seemingly under the radar.

If they continue to follow the trends from a year ago, expect success from Penske in the upcoming weeks.

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

Catching up with NASCAR’s Superspeedway Secret – T.J. Majors

“Door. Bumper. Clear.”

This simple, yet iconic phrase was made famous by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion spotter, T.J. Majors. Majors broke on to the NASCAR scene in 2001 after online racing video games presented him with the friendship of a lifetime.

Unbeknownst to Majors, he was racing with 16-time most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who at the time was not even competing in the then NASCAR Busch Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series). Over the years, the pair frequently messaged each other and even shared racing setups, forming a strong bond. Doxycycline online http://advicarehealth.com/doxycycline.html

The future driver/spotter duo met face-to-face after Earnhardt Jr. traveled to Major’s home state for a testing session at Watkins Glen International. Upon Major’s arrival, the two cyber-friends immediately kicked it off and spent the entire weekend together. Shortly following their time at the New York road course, Earnhardt Jr. persuaded Majors to move to North Carolina with the intent of finding him a job in NASCAR .

The Tar Heel State – with help from his new best friend – granted Majors the opportunity to work with Ken Schrader at MB2 Motorsports.

“It’s kind of been a long, unplanned journey but it’s been interesting,” Majors shared with POPULAR SPEED. “The team needed a spotter one weekend and they asked if I’d go spot. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, but I’ve been doing it ever since!”

Earnhardt Jr. and Majors didn’t team up until 2007, when the racing prodigy was in the midst of the final 10 races of his career at Dale Earnhardt Inc. The infamous tandem remained together until the Earnhardt Jr. called it a career in 2017. Through what was a near 10-year professional relationship, Majors and Earnhardt Jr. accomplished nine wins, 74 Top-Fives and 140 Top-10’s. Sildigra http://valleyofthesunpharmacy.com/sildigra/

An impressive stat line with the numbers to back it up, Majors secured himself as one of NASCAR’s most well known and successful spotters in the sport. He revealed that him and Earnhardt Jr. never really sat down and discussed his spotting methods; it all happened organically and the two had an innate understanding for how to improve each other’s profession.

It’s often said that spotters make their money spotting at the high banked tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway; this is especially true for Majors.

Plate racing is notorious for being unpredictable and chaotic. In most cases, this is true; however, Majors has been able to successfully navigate his drivers through just about anything at these high speed enigma tracks.

“One thing I’ve learned as spotting has evolved over the years is that I must do everything I can to keep my car up front (on superspeedways),” Majors shared. “I started giving information to my drivers that became more desirable and useful to them, but I think him (Earnhardt Jr.) being such a great plate racer is what helped me refine my craft as a spotter on plate tracks.”

In Major’s nearly 12-year long career as a spotter in the Cup Series, it’s safe to say that he has made a name for himself as NASCAR’s premier superspeedway spotter. Major’s has spotted 46 plate races and in that span he’s guided his drivers to a combined 833 laps led, four wins, 17 Top-Fives and 23 Top-10s. To put in perspective, that’s a top-10 finish in half the events he’s spotted between Daytona and Talladega.

We’re (spotters) all trying to do the same thing and our objective is to keep the driver safe; that’s the first thing,” Majors said.

Majors knows this all too well, first hand. In his time spotting the driver of the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports, he witnessed his driver succumb to two major concussions which sidelined the 16-time most popular driver for 20 races; this ultimately ended the superstar’s driving career.

Upon Earnhardt Jr’s departure from racing, Majors took his spotting talents to Team Penske with Joey Logano in 2018. The pair  had worked together previously when 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski called on Majors to spot Logano in the then NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (now NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series) race at Rockingham Speedway in 2013. In Majors’ first attempt with Logano, the duo would go on to notch a second place finish.

“I always felt like I would end up with Team Penske,” Majors said. “There were a lot of connections leading up to this and it worked out really well.”

Majors worked with Keselowski when he drove for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Once Keselowski got his big break driving for Team Penske in the Cup Series, Majors remained in contact with his former driver, as well as connected with Team Penske’s President Roger Penske.

After Earnhardt Jr. retired, all signs pointed towards Team Penske as the next chapter in Majors’ NASCAR spotting career. The shop was close to Majors’ North Carolina home, he had many friends working for the Captain and Keselowski was the best man at Majors’ wedding (as was Majors at Keselowski’s wedding).

“Joey made it clear to me that he wanted to work together,” Majors said. “He thought I could help him be more successful and he couldn’t be more right.”

In Major’s first year with Logano, he was fortunate enough to be a part of a championship winning team. Even more staggering is Majors and Logano’s dominant success at superspeedways in their short time working together.

It’s no secret, T.J. is probably the best superspeedway spotter in the business,” Logano shared with POPULAR SPEED. “His understanding of the draft, where and how the runs will build, and then being able to communicate that to me is second to none.”

In five out of six plate races, Logano has not finished worse than fifth with Majors on the spotter’s stand; the only exception came in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona in 2018, when Logano’s day ended early after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 53.

Majors has guided Logano masterfully to one win, five top-fives and five top-10s in just six races between Daytona and Talladega. As a result, Logano currently leads all active Cup Series drivers with an average finish of 9.5 at plate tracks with Majors helping from above. No other driver currently has an average finish inside the top-10 in the same six race span at superspeedways, let alone a single digit average. To find the second highest average finish on superspeedways in six races, you’ll need to drop over two positions to 11.9 which is owned by Roush Fenway Racing driver, Ryan Newman.

But what makes Majors such a desirable asset to his drivers at plate racing tracks?

“T.J.’s passion for the sport is something that makes him really good at his job,” Logano said. “He doesn’t just show up on Friday and start the weekend. He studies race film from previous events, he understands what other drivers are going to do in certain situations and he gives me a sounding board to discuss what I’m seeing when I do film study.”

Majors believes his relationship with Logano has worked out so well due to the communications they share with each other throughout the race.

“Joey wants as much information as you can give, so my spotting-style works out really well with him– he wants even more information than what I gave to Dale,” Majors revealed. “He wants to know where drivers are, what line they’re running, how far back they are; he wants as much info as you can give in every corner of every lap.”

While Majors may be mainly praised for his superspeedway career, Logano may have struck the jackpot with NASCAR’s new rules package. Halfway through the season, we’ve seen common themes almost every race weekend which eerily correlate to plate racing.

I’ve been lucky because the way these new roll-packages are going, racing has kind of went in that direction of superspeedway racing,” Majors said. “We’re racing closer together, so you’re giving more information– like a plate race– at more tracks.”

Logano shared the same sentiments saying, “With the new aero rules, we’ve seen the draft– especially on restarts– be critical through the first half of the season and that’s been an opportunity for us to gain track position.”

This season, Logano has finished fourth in both races at Daytona and Talladega, so it should come as no surprise that the No. 22 team is considered favorites to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona this weekend.

Can the reigning Cup Series champion continue his dominant success on superspeedways this weekend? Never count out a driver who has T.J. Majors looking out on the rooftop.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

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

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Logano Extends Points Lead In Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. – It was a solid Camping World 400 for Joey Logano and his No. 22 team, who scored a third-place finish in Sunday’s race.

The finish continued a long history of quality performances at Chicagoland Speedway, where the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion now has seven top-10’s in 11 starts.

Despite the positives though, Logano was still hoping for more out of the day.

“I feel okay about it,” Logano told POPULAR SPEED. “You’re never happy with third, but we’ll take it all things considered.”

The day itself was one of making up positions for the 29-year-old as he started the day in 19th. A poor performance in qualifying led to a difficult time gaining ground in the race, as he would finish the first two stages outside the top-10, gaining zero points.

However, as the race began to close so did Logano on the front runners, emerging in the top-10 and continuing to climb up the board.

Once in the top three, it looked as if he was going to march his way to victory, as he appeared to be one of the fastest cars on the track. That would not be the case though, as after laps and laps of trying to get around Kyle Larson, the No. 42 would pull away and battle with the leader, Alex Bowman, leaving Logano behind.

“The way we started this race, we were pretty slow and it took us about three or four stops to get the car close, so then we could start making up some track position and then eventually get ourselves into the top three there,” Logano said. “I thought we’d make a run at him there after that last green flag cycle. We had a great pit stop and caught the 42 and was racing with him and then the car just got tight there at the end and they drove back away.”

Despite not capturing the W, the finish does add another notch on an impressive season for a No. 22 team that now has nine top-five’s and, 12 top-10’s.

The day also allowed Logano to continue his now three-week reign atop the points standings. Not to mention that despite not scoring points until the end of the race, he increased his lead to 18 points over second-place, Kyle Busch.

Looking ahead, Logano will look to carry his momentum to Daytona International Speedway, where he owns one win at the track, and finished fourth there in the Daytona 500 earlier this year.

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
News

Joey Logano ekes out overtime NASCAR Cup Series win at Michigan

Given the statistics, you might think Joey Logano ran away with Monday’s rain-delayed Firekeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Yes, Logano led 163 of 203 laps at the two-mile track in the Irish Hills. He had the fastest car in qualifying on Saturday and the fastest car in the 15th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event of the season.

But after a late caution for Erik Jones’ spin into the infield grass below Turn 2, Logano needed overtime to seal the win. He needed a superb restart on Lap 202 to gain an edge. And he needed a determined drive over the last two laps, aided by spotter T.J. Majors, to hold off charging Kurt Busch by .147 at the finish.

Logano wasn’t about to reveal how he got such a good launch on the decisive restart.

“I can’t tell you everything I learned,” quipped the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, who won for the second time this season, the third time at Michigan—all from the pole—and the 23rd time in his career. “You race this whole race, you keep building that notebook up.

“What a great execution day from our race car, obviously very fast. Our pit crew was amazing. T.J. Majors spotted his butt off up there. The race fans sticking around till Monday–you guys are the best. We love coming up to Michigan. Nothing like bringing a Ford to Victory Lane in their home turf, Roger Penske cars as well. This is a big win for us.”

Thanks to Logano’s victory, Ford Motor Company retained the Michigan Heritage Trophy that goes to the manufacturer of the winning car. Ford drivers have won the last three races at the 2.0-mile track.

Despite sustaining right rear damage to his No. 1 Chip Ganassi racing Chevrolet during a brush with the outside wall on Lap 42, Busch ran in or near the top five for the vast majority of the race. He was third for the final restart and quickly steered to the inside of Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota to grab the second position.

Busch, however, couldn’t catch Logano on the final lap.

“I had a blast,” Busch said. “Tightest I ever put my belts at the end of a race. We got enough stage points today, we said ‘Hell with it, we don’t need to get anything but the win.’ We got second today.”

Before the final caution, Busch was running behind Martin Truex Jr., locked in a tight draft. The two cars were gaining on Logano, but the yellow flag interrupted their progress.

“Logano’s car was tough,” Busch said. “I really wanted it to go green at the end with Truex. I was going to push him straight through the 22 (Logano). My best shot at it.

“We’ll get it. It gives us reason to smile and be happy. We ran up front, were strong in our manufacturer’s back yard, but got second today.”

Truex held the third spot, followed by Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski ran sixth ahead of Kevin Harvick, who rallied from early issues with a vibration that cost him a lap but lost too much ground on a four-tire call on his final green-flag pit stop.

Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

Though Logano led 163 laps, the race wasn’t a cruise for the Team Penske driver. In one hotly contested section of the race, Logano passed Harvick on Lap 148, surrendered the top spot back to Harvick on lap 149 and regained it on lap 150.

But a two-tire call from Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, on a Lap 175 pit stop gained more than five seconds on Harvick, who had taken four tires one lap earlier. Even with the late caution, Harvick couldn’t regain the lost track position on the final two-lap shootout.