Is Penske already a favorite for the 2019 NASCAR Cup title?
Only three weeks into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season may be too early to name a favorite for the title, but Team Penske is making a good case.
With the debut of a new model car in the Ford Mustang and a plethora of new aero rules – which vary at times from race-to-race – Penske has already seen two of its three Cup drivers win two of first three races.
Most teams – including Penske – have not even gotten a full grasp on the effects of the new rules, nor even seen some of the combinations debut yet in on-track action.
But with two of its teams already locked in the playoffs that sure does look like an excellent advantage for Penske to have over the competition during the 23 remaining races in the regular season.
Denny Hamlin locked himself into the playoffs with a victory in the Daytona 500, and Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have followed in the following two races.
The most impressive feat of the back-to-back wins with Penske is they came on tracks which debuted parts or all of this year’s new aero rules. Daytona was run on the same rules as last season.
Still a lot to learn from new aero package
Even so, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, was adamant there is still much for Penske teams to learn in the races to come and that may seem a bit daunting to its competition, many of which are still trying to come to terms with a new car or new rules – or both.
“If you ever quit learning, you’d better quit because you’re going to get passed. It’s a new package. It’s something new that we’ve all got to kind to grasp around,” Gordon said after Logano’s win Sunday at Las Vegas.
“I think you see comers and goers and we're all trying to sort it out. It’s a unique situation because we’ve got a new package that we don’t know what we’ve really needed out of it, and we’re going to the West Coast swing where you've got to build your cars ahead of time.
“It’s something we’ve got to continue to learn on, and we’ll learn as we get to different race tracks because this is a race track that doesn’t have a lot of (tire) fall off. Atlanta did have a lot, and California is going to be its own creature. Every race track we go to has got a new learning curve.”
With Keselowski and Logano’s teams already locked in the playoffs, it opens the door for both teams to experiment a little more in the coming months.
We’ve got to continue to push to get better because we know all of those guys are
Todd Gordon, Joey Logano's crew chief
While some of their competition are still coming to grasps to get their cars to perform best now, Penske has the ability to focus a little bit more down the road toward the playoffs.
It also allows them some more freedom to experiment in areas like qualifying, which was a learning experience for everyone at Las Vegas.
Gordon knows, though, that while his team may be looking ahead, the competition is already back at their headquarters taking the data from the past two races and making improvements themselves.
“I think you’ll continue to see teams make changes to what they think, and now we’ve got two data points and we’ve got a week before we go to California with the drag duct package (again),” Gordon said.
“I think you’ll see that evolve for everybody. I think even us, it’s going to evolve again, and we’ll sit down and have the meetings to talk about where we thought we were good and where we think we can be better and I would expect every one of our competitors to be doing the same thing.
“It’s how we race. We’ve got to continue to push to get better because we know all of those guys are, as well.”
In the coming weeks, it’s likely some other teams will hit on something with the new rules and find their way to Victory Lane as well.
Considering Penske has won the first two outings with the new aero rules – while also working with a new car model – it’s hard not to see the organization as a cut above the rest – at least for the time being.
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