Hard lessons keep Penske Racing realistic for title shot

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski are through to the final eight in the 2015 Chase for the Championship, but Penske management isn’t getting cocky

Hard lessons keep Penske Racing realistic for title shot
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Ford
Tim Cindric
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Polesitter Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Polesitter Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Winner Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Ryan Blaney, Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford
Martinsville atmosphere
Race winner Joey Logano, Team Penske Ford

Penske Racing president Tim Cindric has admitted he is keeping a lid on expectations for the remaining four rounds of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, despite both Penske Ford drivers getting through to the final eight.

Today’s race at Martinsville Speedway, Virginia, is followed by rounds at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway before NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship system whittles the eight drivers down to four. This time last year drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were also in the final eight, but Logano was fourth in the Homestead finale, while the 2012 champion didn’t even have that chance, being eliminated in the Eliminator round.

“We were in the same place last year,” said Cindric, “both cars in the final eight – and we didn’t get it done. We only got one through to the final four and had a difficult race at Homestead. So our goal has to be getting at least get both cars fighting for the championship at Homestead and thereby doubling our chances. Then I think we’ll have a good shot at it.

“I think we run well at Homestead pace-wise; our cars are good there. But I’m sure you can say the same about the others we’d be up against.

“I actually consider this weekend at Martinsville as… the wild card, if you like. If we get out of here with a couple Top 10s, I think we’ve got a real good shot of doing well at Texas and Phoenix and being in the hunt at Homestead.”

The title quest

The Martinsville Speedway, at 0.526 miles the shortest track on the 36-race NASCAR Cup schedule, is notorious for fraught action, and Cindric admitted that he’s aware that some drivers already out of the championship running will be eager to prey on any caution shown by the title contenders.

“I think there some who give a bit more consideration to the championship guys, and some who don’t,” he observed, “just as in any series. Some of them have the bigger picture approach and others are more short-sighted. They don’t understand what goes around comes around.

“But I don’t think it necessarily changes how our drivers race. Brad and Joey have to be give and take no matter what, at this stage. You look at Jimmie Johnson – he’s one of the best at calculating risk vs. reward and that’s why he’s won six championships. When Jimmie’s day goes bad, he has a really good way of still making the most of things. That’s why he deserves all the success he’s had – he’s solid mentally. He really differentiates himself by his approach. 

I feel good that [Logano and Keselowski] are playing it right, and dealing with the circumstances they’re faced with at any given race

Tim Cindric, Penske Racing

“But I think our guys have also learned to be smart that way too. Obviously Joey’s been on a tear, but if you take the first six races of the Chase you can see how Brad’s been quietly making his way forward. So I feel good that they’re both playing it right, and dealing with the circumstances they’re faced with at any given race.”

Logano’s last win at Talladega – his third win in a row, and his fifth in 11 races – was shrouded in controversy, not of Logano’s making. But his edging ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. by the time the caution came out for a Kevin Harvick-triggered wreck, meant the Penske driver eliminated crowd favorite Earnhardt from the Chase. However, Cindric insists Logano can shrug off the displeasure shown by fans.

“Joey’s been under the gun so long, from such a young age,” he says. “There always seems to have been debates about whether the opportunities he’s been afforded have been earned, and all the rest of it. So I think he’s very hardened against those things, and he’s become more and more confident.  You know, he’s a Daytona 500 winner and if you look at the race stats this year and last, he’s as good as anybody.

“So I think as time goes on he worries less and less about others’ opinions of him, and he’s now really solid. And I have to say he’s a really good sounding board for my kid. Austin’s going to face some of that same criticism [about being lucky to get good rides] and already has, but Joey does a very good job of saying to him, ‘Hey, it is what it is. Use your opportunities well, and then you’re going to earn their respect or you’re not. That’s all you can do.’”

Blaney in 2016

Tim Cindric also moved to reassure Ryan Blaney fans that Penske Racing is not only keeping the faith in young prodigy, but also trying to nail down a full Sprint Cup schedule for him in 2016.

Ryan Blaney’s more than holding his own. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the other up-and-comers, and Ryan’s held his own relative to those guys

Cindric on #21 entry

Said Cindric: “Originally the plan was to run 12 races for that car this year to get Ryan up to speed, and then move him into a full-season entry next year – either the #21 Wood Brothers Ford or the #12. We think it would be easier with the #21 program as there’s already one-third of a season in place with the #21. This year he’s been entered in 17 or 18 races, more than we originally intended, so that’s been a bonus, although obviously the rain-outs didn’t help him at some of the races [three DNQs].

“But absolutely Ryan’s in our long-term plans and I think he’ll continue to improve. I think he’s proven in the past couple of races that if the weather stays away, he’s in a good place. He holds his own in the Xfinity races, too.”

Asked to make a comparison between Blaney and Brad Keselowski at similar stages of their career, Cindric said that was difficult.

“It’s hard because by the time we signed Brad [for the start of the 2010 season], he’d been exposed a bit more to Cup through the Hendrick organization and Nationwide [now Xfinity] through JR Motorsports. Ryan has had to be more patient doing Xfinity and Trucks, but I think his path of not trying to do too much too soon has been a good one.

“Brad’s first year in Cup, he was very much under the radar. If you take his unusual one-off win in 2009 at Talladega out of the equation and look at the Brad’s stats, Blaney’s more than holding his own in comparison. Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the other up-and-comers, and Ryan’s held his own relative to those guys, too.

“Kyle has had a lot more races but when he races Ryan in the Xfinity Series, there’s nothing really between them.”

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