Team Penske Thrives While Saving Tests
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 14, 2014 | 1:00 P.M. EST
Brad Keselowski led 138 of 305 laps Sunday to score his 13th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. (Photo: Getty Images)
LOUDON, N.H. - Brad Keselowski celebrated but didn’t gloat. Even a few extra laps didn’t matter with the way his red-and-black Ford dominated Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
When his competitors weren’t shrinking in his rearview mirror, they were quickly dispatched on a track where such maneuvering can be maddening.
Keselowski’s strength - and that of teammate Joey Logano before he was eliminated lapping a slower car - was noteworthy because they had not tested at this 1-mile track this season. Four other multi-car organizations, including Hendrick Motorsports, did before the event.
With teams allowed only four tests at tracks that host Cup races, Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Michael Waltrip racing failed to turn two days of extra track time into a win.
For Hendrick, this marked the organization’s first test at a Cup track this season. Team Penske has kept all four, planning to use them closer to the Chase.
Advantage Penske, right?
“I don't think a test guarantees success,’’ Keselowski said after his third win of the season. “It just maybe highers your probability. We tested here last year. I thought we had a great test, and I thought we had great cars, and things just didn't come together for us, whether it was execution, strategy, whatever it might have been.’’
Even so, it was clear Keselowski had the best car Sunday. He took four tires during a pit stop a third of the way into the race and restarted 10th. He was behind cars that took two tires or didn’t pit. Didn’t matter. Keselowski was second within 10 laps and leading soon after.
That move showed crew chief Paul Wolfe how strong the car was and gave him the freedom to make pit calls that dropped Keselowski out of the front.
“I don’t know what they’ve got, but they’ve got something that’s really good right now and we’re playing catch-up,’’ Jeff Gordon said.
So, was the test not helpful?
“Any time you test, the conditions are slightly different, and that was the case again in this instance,’’ Gordon said. “The track temp was a little bit cooler when we tested, and that can sometimes cover up some things that you're really going to be working on when you come back for the race. So that was one of the things that we dealt with all weekend long, just a little bit less grip, and I was just having some issues getting the car to cut the middle of the corner.
Gordon finished 26th after running out of fuel late to complete an erratic day. It started with a leaky tire that made his car’s handling difficult. Thinking the setup was off, the team adjusted accordingly. Once they realized it was a tire issue, Gordon’s team made the proper changes and his car handled better.
Johnson, though, never got a chance to see what his car would do, suffering two left rear tire failures in the first 15 laps and crashing.
“We had a good test up here,’’ Johnson said. “We had a very fast car. It would have been nice to get a race in here before we come back for the second one, so it’s definitely a setback missing out on track time.”
Earnhardt struggled much of the weekend before placing 10th to be the highest-finishing Hendrick car. Kahne was 11th.
“That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th-place finish,’’ Earnhardt said. “It’s been a real frustrating weekend to be honest. Just to be lacking that much speed against a lot of those guys.
“Hopefully we can improve though before we come back here. This is an important race track so we need to run better than this.’’
One team that didn’t test was Joe Gibbs Racing even though Denny Hamlin said he tried to convince his teammates to do so. Hamlin, who finished eighth but ran near the front much of the race, and runner-up Kyle Busch both said JGR is not as strong at this type of track and short tracks.
Busch noted that the organization got some help with Hamlin taking part in a Goodyear tire test last week at Richmond International Raceway. Some things the team learned transferred to New Hampshire.
Wolfe says that when the series returns to New Hampshire in September for the second race in the Chase, there’s no guarantee Keselowski’s car will be as dominant.
“We didn't have to use a test and were able to come here and have the success we did, but I feel like by the time we come back here in the Chase that we'll have developed and learned so much more about these new rules that probably the setup we ran today won't be as successful as it was today, in September,’’ he said.