Team Penske fights back when put to the test.
TALLADEGA, Ala. – Brad Keselowski told his team prior to Sunday’s race at Talladega that he would deliver the win.
With 50-points separating Keselowski from point leader and Penske teammate Joey Logano, nothing less than a victory would earn the No. 2 Team Penske Ford a transfer position to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.
Yes, there were moments of doubt. On Lap 60, both the No. 2 and 22 Fords sustained damage, Keselowski fought back to the front of the field over the next 78 laps. Then came the debris caution on Lap 184, which set up the first overtime and Keselowski’s comment, “I’ll be damned. It just couldn’t work for us, could it?”
But once the race went green after the final caution – and push came to shove – it was his teammate Joey Logano who pushed Keselowski to lead and provided him with enough cushion to win the Geico 500.
Still, as the laps wound down on Sunday night, Keselowski never lost sight of the point. And he never lost the support of his team from owner Roger Penske to crew chief Paul Wolfe, Logano or his crew.
Despite the incident at Charlotte, it’s full steam ahead for the Captain and his crews.
I'll take 50 grand and the win this week, wouldn't you?
“I'd stand up for him anywhere,” Penske said. “I watched the whole race last week. There certainly was some banging which was maybe not called for…I think he knew what he had to do here. We're focusing on the next couple of races. I told him a lot, It's over, it's over, let's move on.
“Look, I like him. He's a great driver. We have a long‑term relationship with him. If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that's okay with me. We'll let NASCAR figure out if he's over the line or not. I guess it cost us 50 grand. I'll take 50 grand and the win this week, wouldn't you?”
Stand and defend
Wolfe guided Keselowski to his first Nationwide Series title and the first NASCAR championship for Team Penske in 2010. Two years later, they partnered to deliver Penske its first Cup title.
And when the scuffle broke out between Keselowski and Matt Kenseth between the Team Penske haulers last Saturday night in Charlotte, it was Wolfe who restrained the rival driver during the incident. Wolfe believes in his team and said the recent events “showed that we're going to stick together as a team no matter what happens.”
I've got his back 100%.
Paul Wolfe on Brad Keselowski
“I don't think this is the first time we've seen Brad step up to the plate,” Wolfe said after Sunday’s win. “Seems like everyone is against him. Seems like that fires him up more. I've got his back 100%. I didn't see anything that he did out of line last weekend. I told him that. He does a great job and races hard. That's why we like him driving our car.
“He sets his mind to something, he's going to make it happen. He made the comments this week before he got here that he was going to come down here and win. I'm glad everyone back at the shop, all the guys on this 2 team were able to give him a car that was capable of that, put is in his hands. He did what he said he was going to do. Just proud of the effort. He's very deserving of it.”
Steering the ship
Penske is clearly satisfied with the teams he has assembled on the NASCAR side. From a chemistry standpoint, Penske has never enjoyed such a united front since he first expanded his stock car operation in 2001.
The proof is in this season's results with a record 11 Cup wins for Team Penske.
Penske acknowledged team orders were in play entering Sunday’s race between Keselowski, Logano and development driver Ryan Blaney. During different segments of the race, the teammates worked together perfectly and the plan unfolded resulting in Keselowski's sixth win and more importantly a transfer spot in the Chase.
Although Keselowski was scrutinized from every direction following Charlotte, it didn't seem to affect him once he was back in the racecar at Talladega.
The Captain was quick to defend Keselowski, who admitted that defending himself isn’t “something I enjoy.”
I don't look to go out there and have to fight those battles.
“I don't look to go out there and have to fight those battles,” Keselowski said. “That just makes life a lot harder. But there's a part of me that's come to accept that this isn't going to be easy, that I didn't come into this sport in an era where it was going to work out any other way.
“I mean, look at the drivers that came through my era. I came into this sport, my first win was 2009, first full season 2010. Besides my teammate Joey Logano, what other drivers came from that era and are successful? There isn't one. There's not one that came through those four or five years. That's for good reason. They've been ran out of the sport. I'm not going to let that happen.”
And certainly, neither is Penske. With two teams moving onto the Eliminator Round, the team owner is in an enviable position and so are his drivers. Team Penske is enjoying a 100 percent success rate with advancing all competitors in the Chase. Entering the third stage, not even NASCAR’s juggernauts can beat those numbers.
I want him to get mad. I don't want him to take it.
Roger Penske on Brad Keselowski
“Number one, these guys are jealous of the job he's done this year,” Penske said. “He's won six races. He's made poles. He's been up front. Nobody likes to see a guy win like that. The fact that he has a little edge on him, he's continually delivering, obviously I think makes a difference.
“If everybody understood what happened on the racetrack last week, when you get your rear fender knocked off on a restart, you get your front fender knocked off on a pass‑by, I want him to get mad. I don't want him to take it."
When Penske recruited Keselowski in 2009, the 25-year-old driver had already won a race but his future was uncertain. He discovered a similar diamond in the rough when he enlisted Logano’s services for 2013.
But with his veteran driver’s contribution of multiple NASCAR titles and the distinct possibility of another, Penske undoubtedly understands Keselowski's potential.
“He certainly has been the asset that we needed after Rusty (Wallace) and (Ryan) Newman moved on,” Penske said. “We went through kind of a choppy period there. He came to the shop and said he could help us build a world‑class team. He did that personally the way he drives, but also at the shop. He and Paul got together. He's a leader not only on the racetrack but also at the shop.
“To me, putting his arm around Joey, getting him to come on the team, he's something that I would call the key asset of the team right now. He's a good team player with Joey. I guess Joey put a lot of money in the bank today for Brad. I guess he's got some credit coming.”