With the offseason for all major American motorsports now in full swing, I got to thinking about the battle for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and IndyCar titles and more precisely, why Penske's drivers failed to win either after such impressive seasons.
It's an interesting question, especially after looking at the success both sides of Team Penske's massive racing empire enjoyed in 2015.
Joey Logano won more races than any other Cup driver, while Juan Pablo Montoya led the IndyCar points standings for the first 15 races of the 16-race season.
Both of the aforementioned drivers also won the biggest race in their respective disciplines - the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500.
So why then did neither driver manage to bring home the championship trophy for car owner Roger Penske?
A costly feud
In regards to Logano, many will say the reason the winningest driver this season didn't emerge as the champion was due to the Chase format itself. Others will argue that if not for Matt Kenseth's now infamous Martinsville payback, Logano more than likely goes on to win the title. And yet another faction (mostly Logano detractors) will insinuate that Logano was his own undoing when he moved Kenseth out of the way to win Kansas - a victory he didn't necessarily need.
All arguable points. I take issue with the first statement due to how hypothetical it actually is. Looking at the 'old format,' Logano would lose the crown by 21 points to Harvick. Take away Kenseth's vengeful move at Martinsville and the No. 22 wins the crown. That could very well be, but it's essentially no more than a blind guess regarding an alternate timeline that has not and will never take place, rendering it a moot point.
I tend to agree with the third statement, but that's partly because myself and everyone else has the wondrous tool that is hindsight. Future consequences don't usually cross one mind in the heat of the moment while they're fighting for the win.
No matter how you slice it, it's not far fetched to say that the Kenseth/Logano feud is what directly precluded Logano from being part of the Championship 4. As for if he would have actually won it all at Homestead, we're now going too far down hypothetical timelines again...
Bottom line: Logano lost his opportunity to fight for a championship he was perfectly capable of winning because he (no matter how validated he was in his actions) still instigated an unnecessary fight in a crucial point of the season. And then no one put a stop to it before it hit a fever pitch two weeks later. He made an enemy he didn't have to make. Logano was already locked into the next round, Kenseth was not.
This was simply a situation with one driver who had nothing to lose and another with everything to gain. In the end, they both lost out.
A disastrous finale
Over to Montoya. How is it JPM could have possibly been robbed of the crown? He led the points in every single race up until the finale. He averaged a finish of 6.9 throughout the entire season, failing to finish only a single race due to a mechanical failure. But when the checkered flag flew at Sonoma, he lost the championship in a tie with Scott Dixon.
Some may say he lost it when he suffered his lone DNF at Iowa. Fair enough, but I'd rather take a look at the more direct reasons...
Early in the running at Sonoma, a debated full-course yellow was deployed for a slow car on the circuit. Due to the timing of the caution, Montoya restarted deep in the field. What really changed the dynamic of the title fight was when Montoya and his own teammate (Will Power) had a coming together on the ensuing restart.
Montoya needed a new front wing and was forced back into the very rear of the field. Despite the disastrous start to his finale, the Colombian fought his way up to sixth by the checkered flag, but it just wasn't enough with Dixon in Victory Lane. Seems obvious to say that Montoya was on the losing end because of that contact with his teammate, but there is a contingent out there, Montoya included, that want to make an argument we've already already heard on the NASCAR side - blame the format.
There were double points on hand at Sonoma - a controversial decision. Backers of the the aforementioned argument will say that he only lost because of the manufactured drama brought in by double points.
If we want to actually entertain this notion and eradicate double points (and assuming the results would remain the same despite the changed points system), here's how it would look: Without double points for the finale, Montoya ends the season with 528 points, while Dixon brings home 506. Also take away the double points awarded in the Indy 500 for good measure and Montoya still wins by four points (478 to 474).
So they're right. But the fact of the matter is, that wasn't the format. Double Points were in play (unfortunately) and he lost.
Bottom line: After doing the math, it is certainly valid to say Montoya lost the 2015 title due to the implementation of double points, but it was still the format in place nonetheless. One could also pinpoint the early-race collision between he and Power as the event that changed the tide of the fight.
In conclusion ... Roger Penske's drivers and teams were plenty good enough to win these two championships, but in my opinion, an unnecessary feud and an unnecessary rule were the primary factors that precluded both from finishing the job.