Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: Penske Racing’s Success An Unexpected Twist

Joey Logano’s win at Texas was a well-deserved and hard-fought victory, especially considering that late-race restart brought on by a tire issue with Kurt Busch. Though Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth, and teammate Brad Keselowski (among others) made a strong run for the win last Monday, it was Logano who was the victor after leading 108 of the 340 laps.

It seems like only yesterday that Logano was … oh, somewhere mid-pack, almost never making the news for anything positive. In fact, it feels like we heard more about Logano because of rivalries or wrecks outside of the Nationwide Series than where he actually finished.

Joey Logano, a 2014 winner before Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth? Who would have guessed?
Joey Logano, a 2014 winner before Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth? Who would have guessed?

Joey Logano’s move to Penske Racing, in its second season now may have just worked out better than most would have thought. I personally expected Logano’s performance to improve, considering this team had just won a championship with Brad Keselowski when Logano left Joe Gibbs Racing to join them. However, I didn’t expect to be hearing/reading/writing about Logano in the capacity and with the frequency that we have, and especially not with the potential for multiple race wins that I feel like the No. 22 team has right now.

In fact, extend that past Logano and let’s include Keselowski in this conversation. Considering Keselowski’s floundering last year after winning the title in 2012, I know I wasn’t alone in wondering if they would be able to return to championship-caliber status in 2014. In fact, I doubted as much. With Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports finishing the year as the dominant forces, it was very difficult to believe that Penske would be able to catch up.

Now, the No. 2 and the No. 22 cars are consistently two of the fastest cars on-track, week in and week out. Who would have predicted that both Keselowski and Logano would have a win before Jimmie Johnson or Matt Kenseth? No one that I know.

Early or not, Penske Racing has established itself as a force to be reckoned with. That is, until Jimmie Johnson finally decides to start kicking.

Now, on to your questions:

“I really wish NASCAR would realize their core fan base a little bit better. If theyHAVE to move the race to Monday, they really should put it in primetime so fans like me — who have to WORK FOR A LIVING — get to actually friggin see it! What gives??” Dylan

As you can imagine, there are tons of logistics involved in race weekends. You have to think about the workers who aren’t at the track year-round (concession staffers, security guards, traffic directors). Most, if not all, of those people are either volunteers or have full-time jobs that they need to return to on Monday. If they areable to take off another day of work or stay at the track, it’s not fair to ask them to spend another full day, especially when the race wasn’t scheduled to be at night in the first place.

Secondly, there are the teams to think about. They are already a day behind on productivity and work at the shop, not to mention travel. The hauler drivers already have a long drive back only to have to go to the next track. To ask them not to leave until Monday night? That’s rather unfair.

Finally, there are the race fans. For those who were able to take off an extra day to attend the race weekend, accounting for rain still probably didn’t give themselves enough time to rest up and stay until Tuesday. It’s just not in the cards for very many people, financially to be able to do that. Thus, they have to travel back home that night. Unless they live in the area, that’s going to be a brutal day.

That’s not to mention other team personnel, media, and NASCAR themselves who have already lost an extra day. They don’t need to lose yet another on Tuesday so they can go back home.

Basically, NASCAR does the Monday noon thing because it is more efficient and less time-consuming. I know it’s inconvenient for those who can’t watch the race (and, let’s be honest, night races are more fun). As much as I would love to be on your side on this one, I know it just doesn’t work like that. Once the race gets moved, the goal in mind is to “get it in” as soon as reasonably possible. Usually, that is early afternoon on Monday.

Seven winners in seven races is great and all but can we really attribute that to the new Chase system? There were 13 winners in the first 26 races last year.Shane

That’s a hard question to answer since we don’t know how the races would have played out had the same system been in place last year (or vice versa). However, considering that most crew chiefs and drivers admit to making decisions or calls, this year that they wouldn’t have made under the old system, I would have to say that you have to at least somewhat credit this new format.

With that said, though, I don’t know that anyone is denying parity has existed in prior years in the Sprint Cup Series. I think the reason this change is being credited to NASCAR’s new system is because it allows for those late-race gambles to take place that might otherwise have not. It also allows teams that have already won a race to swing for the fences on setups and test during race weekends which, potentially, opens it up for others to capitalize if they mess up. In other words, this system creates parity for two reasons: (1) Teams are going to take chances and (2) Once they have won a race, they can take more chances on setups. They no longer have to worry about making the Chase.

Of course, as has been discussed quite a bit as well, that strategy could backfire. I fully expect that this Chase system will open the door up for 16 potential winners (and, as you said, we came damn close last year). So I’m not convinced that Kevin Harvick — who is sitting 26th in points — really is in the clear, despite the fact he already has a victory. If this trend in winners continues, and there is no reason to believe that it won’t, Harvick might need to improve his standing in order to make the final cut.

Even if that isn’t the case, though, I still think you can partially credit the new system with this year’s parity. At the very least, you have to admit that it’s been fun to watch.

“So was I the only one who felt like the whole ‘duck’ and Robertson family sponsorship thing was over-saturated? I was at the track and they were even showing ‘Duck Dynasty’ on the screen. I don’t have a problem with them, per se, but I’m not a fan of the show either. It just felt like a little much when I was there to see the race.” Rachel

I’m not a fan of the show either and their constant presence was making me crazy. However, I’ll bet the Robertson clan was happy with the exposure, which may open up opportunities for sponsorship in the future. With the economy still struggling (I don’t care where you pull your numbers from, times are still tough) anytime sponsorship dollars become available, that’s a positive. If the “Duck Commander 500” becomes the annual name of Texas’ spring race, allowing the track to focus on other things than finding sponsorship, I’m not going to complain about it too much.

Let’s also not fall into a pit of denial and pretend like there isn’t quite a bit of overlap between NASCAR’s fan-base and viewers of “Duck Dynasty”. I guarantee you there were fans who loved seeing all of the overly-hairy characters from the show appearing at the racetrack and are hoping to see a NASCAR-centric episode in the future.

Whether we like it or not, an oversaturation of sponsors might turn out to be a good thing for everyone in the long run. If you can just cringe and bear it during the pre-race ceremonies, know it will make things better over time.

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