Team Preview: Penske Racing

Brad Keselowski

Penske Racing will face a number of challenges as the organization tries to defend its title. A new teammate for Brad Keselowski as well as a switch in manufacturers awaits in 2013. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)

MotorRacingNetwork.com concludes our series of team previews with a look at the reigning championship team Penske Racing as we get ready for tonight’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona.

Finally reaching the top of the NASCAR mountain in 2012 after nearly 40 years of trying the question for Penske Racing is “what can you do for an encore?”

Legendary team owner Roger Penske has been competing in stock car racing since the 1970s, but it wasn't until Brad Keselowski's remarkable run last season that "The Captain" could celebrate the ultimate accomplishment.

"There's no question that winning a NASCAR championship at the elite level is something that everybody in racing wants to accomplish, and we hadn't done that," Penske said. "It's a war out there, and to be standing at the end with the American flag in your hand when it's all over and be the champion is something real special."

The Michigan native Keselowski scored five victories and 23 top-10 finishes on his way to giving Penske Racing its first Sprint Cup title.

The blue-collar racer remembers his humble beginnings and how he’s risen from a family-owned local racing team to NASCAR’s elite.

“When I was in Michigan and my family had its own race teams, they were on the third tier of racing, and Sprint Cup was on the first tier,” Keselowski said during a recent trip to his home state. “My vision was kind of limited to being successful on that third tier. That’s all I knew. Through whatever chain of events, positive or negative, and at the time they seemed negative but now they’re positive, that didn’t work out. My family’s business fell apart. It was a catalyst for a chain of events that got me to be here, now, and have the opportunities that have lead to it. There’s been a lot of self reflection about that, how sometimes you have to dream big.”

Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe teamed up to become one of the most formidable pairs in the Sprint Cup Series. Penske believes that chemistry and the personal contributions of Penske were keys to the dream season.

"It's not how much money you put into your race team," Penske said. "It's all about the people and the human capital and, I guess, Brad is right at the top.

"He came in and said, 'Look, I want to help you build a championship team.' He looked me in the eye and shook my hand. That's how we started -- and there's no question that he's delivered way above what both of us probably thought was possible when you look at the competition and what we have to deal with. But he's a great leader on our team."

However, Penske Racing will face a number of challenges as the organization tries to defend its title. A new teammate for Keselowski as well as a switch in manufacturers awaits in 2013.

The team announced early last year it would end its affiliation with Dodge and join the Ford stable in 2013, reuniting Penske with the Blue Oval manufacturer he campaigned in the 1990s.

Sam Hornish, Jr. filled in after AJ Allmendinger failed NASCAR’s substance abuse policy and was subsequently released from the team last summer. But the former Indy Car star was not given the full-time spot in the No. 22 entry as was speculated.

Joey LoganoRather, Joey Logano comes to Penske from Joe Gibbs Racing. Keselowski played a major role in recruiting the young driver and the two have already hit it off during this winter's testing sessions.

"It's really cool to have a teammate that's a student of the sport, that really studies it and will push me to do things differently," Logano said. "I think the coolest thing that Brad is able to do is he's able to think outside of the box -- like way outside the box."

After spending his entire Sprint Cup career with JGR, Logano believes a change of scenery will be beneficial. Plus it doesn’t hurt to be joining the organization that won last year’s crown.

“The move is going great so far,” Logano said. “Coming into a championship-winning team is a huge privilege. [Crew chief] Todd Gordon and I are learning each other at a very quick rate. I feel we have a lot of similarities.”

As for Keselowski, he’d like nothing more than to see a similar ending for the coming season to the one that resulted in a Sprint Cup title in 2012.

“What we did last year is not good enough,” Keselowski said. “We have to step up another level. We know our competition is going to do the same. I’m not happy being a guy that wins one championship and goes away quietly.

“Look at some of the additions we’ve made. Bringing in Joey Logano, working on the Nationwide program to solidify two programs, having Ryan Blaney be part of that – that shows the commitment we all have to improving. I know that Joey and Ryan bring some youth and fresh ideas to make the team better. They might go out there and beat my butt, but I’m going to surround myself with the most talent because that’s what got us where we are today.”

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