HOMESTEAD, Fla – Team Penske has had a widly successful racing year in 2019. Simon Pagenaud swept the Month of May for them at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in NTT IndyCar Series competition. He won the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole as well as the Indy 500 itself. In the end, it was Josef Newgarden who brought him home a third championship in the last four IndyCar seasons.
In IMSA, they won the title in sports car competition as well. Then, last week, Penske announced that they have acquired the rights to not just the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but the entire IndyCar Series as well.
Unfortunately, their NASCAR season won’t end with a title to join that highly decorated list of accomplishments.
In Phoenix, they still had two drivers championship eligible, but Ryan Blaney’s third place finish and Joey Logano’s ninth place runs weren’t enough to propel either to the Championship 4.
This is just the second time since the Championship 4 format was adopted in 2014 that Penske didn’t have a driver vying for the Cup title. 2015 was the only other year that they didn’t. In 2014, 2016 and 2018, it was Joey Logano’s turn. In 2017, it was Brad Keselowski’s.
Logano, was hoping to become just the 11th driver to even win back-to-back championships. He came up just short. There’s a reason the 10 drivers to have done so are on that list.
Just look at the names – Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Joe Weatherly.
It’s the best of the best.
Johnson won five straight from 2006 through 2010 but prior to him, the last driver to go back-to-back was Gordon in 1997 and again in 1998. Earnhardt did so on three different occasions, two of which coming in the 90’s. But, over the last 31 years, just three times has someone gone back-to-back.
Logano, won’t be the fourth.
He had a fast car in Phoenix but a weird adjustment following his Stage 2 pit stop cost him a chance. Also, he’s been widely inconsistent since his last win on June 10.
The Team Penske driver last won at the Michigan International Speedway in early June. That’s 21 races ago. In the 20 races since his win, the defending series champion has scored just three top five finishes. In fact, he’s had two top fives over the last 18 races run.
Furthermore, over the last 15 races, Logano has brought his No. 22 Ford home 10th or worse in 10 of them.
But, here he is fighting with his teammates and Kyle Larson for fifth in points. In all reality, I can see Penske drivers finishing 5-6-7 and taking the best in class not of the Championship 4.
Logano, has four straight top six finishes in Homestead.
Keselowski, is looking for his sixth top 10 finish in the final standings in the last seven years. He has tapered off during the playoffs. Through the first round, he had three straight top five finishes. But, in the Round of 12, he was 11th, 25th and 19th. That got him eliminated. In the Round of 8, Keselowski had two top 10 finishes in three tries. Now, he’s hoping to end the year with three in his final four starts. In Homestead, Keselowski has five top seven finishes in his last eight tries.
Then there’s arguably Penske’s hottest driver in Blaney. He was fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8. Unfortunately, his lack of playoff points kept him from advancing over Busch. Bu, Blaney has four top eight finishes, three of which being in the top five in his last five starts on the season. His only drawback is that his best finish in four Homestead tries is 17th. He’s finished in the top 10 in each of the last three years in the final standings – 9th, 10th, 6th. Now, he’s hoping for a fourth and to even inch closer to a best career finish of fifth.
Logano, leads the battle for fifth by 23 points over Kyle Larson. Blaney, is 41 points out while Keselowski is 45 out himself. But, Larson holds just an 18 point advantage over Blaney and 22 point gap over Keselowski.
It’s a Ganassi vs. Penske battle for fifth as Penske would certainly like to bump Larson out of there and get 5th, 6th and 7th in the standings.