Team Penske Aims For Consistency, Roush Fenway's Youth Movement and the Possible Return of the No. 28
CONSISTENCY KEY FOR TEAM PENSKE IN 2015
Team Penske didn't need to show off to the crowd on the third day of the 33rd Annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom, but they did anyway. A packed press room was shown a video recapping Team Penske's 2014 season that included 22 wins overall, 11 of them coming in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Team owner Roger Penske said last year was probably the team's most successful season ever.
Six of those 11 wins came from Brad Keselowski, who won and lost in the most controversial ways possible. His on-track activity led to a post-race fight at Charlotte Motor Speedway that really began the fireworks of the newly formatted Chase for the Sprint Cup. Some may question the racing style of Keselowski, who is entering his sixth season with Team Penske, but he defended himself and made it clear that he isn't backing down.
"I made guys mad racing for the win, it wasn't racing for 20th," Keselowski said. "You get in a wreck and a fight racing for 20th, that doesn't make SportsCenter. You get in a wreck and a fight with a previous champion, racing for a championship, going for a win; you're probably doing the right things. In some ways it's kind of a compliment. Most people might not see it that way, but I do."
Joey Logano's 2014 season was just as impressive as his teammate's. He won five times and made it to the final round of the Chase, but couldn't grab the championship in Homestead. Logano thinks he works well with his entire team, including Keselwoski, but realizes nobody will be forgetting about 2014 any time soon.
"Oh no, bygones aren't bygones; that's one thing I've learned in this sport," Logano said. "Stuff carries over a pretty long time. It goes away to a certain point, but they always remember."
Logano isn't too worried about last year's drama affecting the upcoming season, though. When asked about it, he said he was just happy to have the spotlight off of him for a little while.
"I was excited it wasn't me for a change," he said as he laughed. "My year was the year before and last year was Brad's year for it, I guess. Hopefully none of us are in it (this year) though, and we'll just get to race."
Ryan Blaney will be driving most of the races for Team Penske's No. 22 car in the XFINITY Series, but Keselowski and Logano will be behind the wheel a few times as well. Blaney is also racing part time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Wood Brothers Racing, with whom Team Penske has formed a technical alliance for 2015.
After a stellar 2014, Team Penske just needs to continue what it's been doing to have success this year. Penske believes he has a great team under him and conveyed the message that consistency is what they are striving for now.
"Teamwork paid off," Penske said. "To me it's going to be the foundation for us in 2015. Something that's not broken, let's not change it."
With five drivers under the age of 27, Roush Fenway Racing has injected a serious amount of youth into an organization that is looking for a serious rebound after a disappointing 2014 season. And while the loss of Carl Edwards to Joe Gibbs Racing will be a substantial hit to the veteran Ford stable, the addition of Elliott Sadler and promotion of Greg Biffle should provide the perfect balance for a team looking to get back to the top of the mountain.
"The hole in our performance (last year) was at the mile-and-a-half and two-mile racetracks, which has typically been our strength," said team owner Jack Roush, who's beginning his 28th year in NASCAR. "I've never been more excited about our lineup of drivers. … I couldn't be more happy with our (XFINITY) program and now we just need to get out there with our Cup cars and see what we can do."
Biffle will headline a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series program that also includes Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and rookie Trevor Bayne. Biffle made the Chase in 2014, but really never contended, finishing the season with no wins and only three top-fives.
"Last year was certainly a tough season for us," said Biffle. "This offseason and the no testing that has gone on, we really kind of agonized over - but I really feel like it's been a turning point for Roush Fenway. Because it's given us the down time and opportunity to step back and look at potentially where we made the wrong turn in the road."
Stenhouse and Bayne should also provide the team some stability as the two merge into more significant roles. Stenhouse, a back-to-back XFINITY Series champion in 2011 and 2012, is entering his third season behind the wheel in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, while Bayne is entering his first full season with Roush Fenway, but is a rookie in name only, having won the 2011 Daytona 500 while running a part-time schedule for Wood Brothers Racing.
With Biffle serving as the team veteran in Cup, Sadler should provide the same tutelage for a strong XFINITY Series group that includes Bubba Wallace, Chris Buscher and Ryan Reed. It will be a homecoming of sorts for Sadler, who ran three seasons under the Robert Yates Racing flagship from 2003-05.
"It was so neat to walk into the shop for the first time and see a lot of guys I have worked with before, not only from my days at Yates, but from the Ford family," said Sadler. "We're all going for that common goal. We are working hard and going through some changes, but the end goal is the same. We want to win and we have a great young group with a lot of enthusiasm."
SMALL TEAMS, BIG GOALS
Wood Brothers Racing and Leavine Family Racing held a joint press conference to announce the starts of their respective part-time schedules in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 2015.
Leavine Family Racing (LFR) will once again have Michael McDowell behind the wheel. McDowell started 19 races for LFR in 2014, earning one top-10. But the expectations are bigger for this season, as the team anticipates running a minimum of 20 races with K-Love and Thrivent Financial serving as the primary sponsors.
"We really started to get some momentum by the end of last season," said McDowell. "We're hoping to build off of that in 2015 and become a more competitive race team on a weekly basis."
For Wood Brothers Racing, it will be 21-year-old Ryan Blaney in the cockpit. Blaney has only two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in his career, but is a two-time winner in the XFINITY Series and should bring a winning attitude to a team that is in search of its 100th win in its 65th year running in NASCAR.
"I come from a long family of racing," said Blaney, referencing his father Dave and uncle Dale - both of whom raced in NASCAR. "The Wood Brothers have been around for a long time, so that's pretty special to be a part of. I'm going to do whatever I can to get them back into victory lane."
No. 28 BACK ON TRACK?
It's been more than five years since the famed No. 28 Yates Racing Ford last spun laps around a NASCAR track. March 22, 2009 to be exact. And while the No. 28 is free for teams to use - with NASCAR's permission, of course - there is a certain respect that follows that number. It's with that respect that former team owner Doug Yates occasionally fields a call for permission to use the number that was driven famously by the likes of Fred Lorenzen, Davey Allison and Ernie Irvan.
"I got a call at the beginning of last season from a driver that asked me if it would be OK to use the number," said Yates. "He asked that I think about it and he'd check in a little later."
Yates did think about it, and even talked it over with family. And when that driver called back, it didn't take long for him to figure out the answer.
Said Yates: "I answered my phone and immediately the driver said to me - 'I get it. Don't say any more.' "
Yates, the son of former championship team owner Robert Yates, currently heads Roush Yates Engines, the primary builder of Ford engines in the top-three NASCAR series. Yates was on hand for Tuesday night's media tour of the new Ford Performance and Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina. The building houses a state-of-the-art $3 million-plus simulator, which will help drivers with off-track testing on all NASCAR affiliated tracks.
The building also features stations for analytics research, car design calibration and measuring, as well as wind-tunnel testing and performance parts modifications. Ford teams will be able to use facility from everything from testing, to research to a car parts service that one Ford representative described as a "drive-thru parts service."
"They let us know what they need, we get it ready and they pick it up. Simple as that."
QUOTES OF THE DAY
"I'm just here so I won't get fined."
~ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., mocking Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch's press conference at Tuesday's Super Bowl Media Day.
Members of Charlotte Motor Speedway and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. would like to send its thoughts and prayers to the family of NASCAR legend David Pearson. The Hall of Famer and three-time Sprint Cup Series champion suffered a stroke two weeks after Thanksgiving and the Pearson family released a statement Wednesday on his behalf:
"David had a mild stroke on Dec. 9, but is doing great and well on the road to recovery. The stroke affected his left side somewhat but he is able to walk slowly and his arm continues to get better with maneuverability. He has great grip with his left hand so we are very much encouraged.
"He continues to have therapy on both his leg and arm, and progresses each day. Today, he is 80 to 85 percent back to normal and we expect a full recovery soon. Thanks to the NASCAR family and all of his fans and friends for their support and concern."
- The Pearson Family