Why More Success Could Be On the Way for Team Penske After the Dominating Run in the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race
The NASCAR All-Star Race on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway became a Team Penske party at the front of the field and could offer momentum for the championship battle despite the fact no driver brought back any points from the exhibition event.
Ryan Blaney dominated the second half of the race and led the final 84 laps of the 140-lap event after Stage 1 winner Kyle Busch had a flat tire and crashed in a wreck that also involved contenders Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott near the end of Stage 2.
Blaney’s teammate Austin Cindric was running second when Busch wrecked and led the final seven laps of Stage 2 to earn the green-and-white checkered flag for that segment of the race.
The pit crew for Joey Logano in the third Penske car immensely helped his cause by having the fastest time on pit road during a mandatory pit-stop cycle, which gave him one of the top-three starting spots for the final 50-lap stage.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin was the only racer able to break up the Penske trio. Hamlin rallied to second, but Penske still held three of the top four finishing positions with Blaney in the winner’s circle, Cindric third, and Logano fourth.
Before Ryan Blaney’s win at the All-Star Race, Team Penske has struggled overall in the NASCAR Cup Series over the last month
Team Penske began the 2022 season as well as any team could with Logano’s victory in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition event and Cindric’s first career win at the Daytona 500.
Logano rallied with top-10 finishes in three of the first five points-paying races of the season, but the last four weeks have been dreadful despite one bright spot. Earlier this month at Darlington Raceway, he won with a controversial move at the end of the race when he punted leader William Byron out of the way with two laps left. But he has finished 17th or worse in the three races surrounding Darlington, including 29th at Dover Motor Speedway and 32nd at Talladega Superspeedway.
Cindric’s season has looked much more similar to a typical rookie season than his Daytona 500 win would suggest. His only top-10 in the 12 races since Daytona was eighth at the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, Texas. He would be on the NASCAR Playoffs bubble in 16th in the points standings if not for the automatic berth his Daytona win provided.
Blaney has had perhaps the most unusual season of the three. He is tied with Christopher Bell for the Cup Series lead with three pole awards, ranks second to only Byron in laps led with 371, his 12.8 average finish ranks fourth, and he is second in the overall points standings, 52 points behind Elliott.
However, he has led only 32 laps in the last five points-paying races and doesn’t have a top-10 in the last four races with an average finish of 16.5. In short, he needed the All-Star Race win even though it doesn’t count toward playoff eligibility.
“I feel like we came to the track this weekend with kind of a little bit different mindset in how we approached things with our race car and setup, and I felt like it had great potential. I felt like our car was really fast all night,” Blaney said in his post-race press conference. “A lot of positives leading out of this. A lot of momentum going back to Charlotte, and a lot of things to build off of.”
That momentum could be the most significant benefit for all of Team Penske from the All-Star Race.
The upcoming NASCAR Cup Series schedule sets up well for teams that are good on intermediate tracks
The upcoming 600-mile race Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway is on a 1.5-mile, D-shaped oval that is similar to Texas, and another D-Shaped oval awaits three weeks later at Nashville Superspeedway, even though that track is 2.5 miles long and has a concrete surface.
The schedule shapes up even better in the playoffs for Team Penske if it has truly found something in the Next Gen car setup to create consistent speed on intermediate tracks.
The playoffs include four intermediate tracks out of the 10-week championship chase, including Texas in Round 4, and there is at least one such track in each of the first three rounds of the playoffs. If the Penske drivers excel only at those tracks, they would still be in contention to reach the Championship 4 in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.
The first half of the regular season has been uneven for the three Team Penske drivers, not to mention the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers team with rookie Harrison Burton 28th in points.
Still, plenty of opportunities await as summer approaches if the All-Star Race was an accurate indication of the organization’s potential.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.
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