Almost three years ago, fresh off his 2012 Sprint Cup title Brad Keselowski appeared ready to vault toward superstar status. Somehow, he had fended off five-time champ Jimmie Johnson despite driving for an organization in Team Penske that left him on an island. His teammate in the No. 22, AJ Allmendinger was fired midseason after failing a drug test and a hodgepodge of replacements did little to feed information Keselowski’s way. Looking back, his effort in the No. 2 car considering the circumstances became one of the most surprising NASCAR championships in recent memory. It was the closest we’ve come to a single-car team winning the title since Dale Earnhardt was the last to do so in 1994.
Keselowski, one of the smartest drivers in the sport looked to correct that for 2013 and beyond. He felt the key to becoming a multiple title winner was to find a teammate that could grow along with him, a “young gun” capable of shooting bullets instead of shooting the team in the foot. Enter Joey Logano, discarded by Joe Gibbs Racing at the ripe old age of 22. Sensing an opening, Keselowski got the protégé hired; his crew got fired up and after decades of strife Team Penske blended into a smooth, information-sharing operation.In many ways, both drivers have been on top of their game ever since. Logano has won a dozen times in three years, including the 2015 Daytona 500 and led over 2,600 laps. Nine poles have proven his speed can start on Friday and carry over into Sunday; an average start of 6.9 in 2015, this year of track position leads all drivers. The “new hire” has combined with Keselowski to win 18 times in the last two years, a competitive total with the sport’s top teams even though Penske has half the cars of rivals Hendrick Motorsports, JGR or Stewart-Haas Racing.
Most Sprint Cup Wins Since 2014
There’s a lot to be proud of over at Penske. Yet here we are, less than two weeks from the NASCAR season finale and it’s almost certain this group will be on the outside of the title race looking in.
Logano’s ugly incident with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville puts him in a “must-win” situation at Phoenix; Keselowski, despite leading 312 laps Sunday at Texas finished second and remains inside the same boat. Despite their position in the sport as the youngest team (in position to get even younger with Ryan Blaney coming up through the ranks) they haven’t gotten won the war during this stretch: a Sprint Cup championship.Why does this duo continue to fall short? That question can also include owner Penske himself, a Hall of Fame owner in INDYCAR yet without the championship hardware he should have won on the stock car side. Former driver Rusty Wallace came close, in 1993 and ’94 but a myriad of DNFs canceled out trips to Victory Lane and awarded the title to Earnhardt. A decade later, Ryan Newman had an eight-win, domineering season in the No. 12 car yet lost out to Kenseth in the final NASCAR championship decided without a playoff (2003).
Some might say the “boom or bust” mentality Penske’s stock car team was once known for would hurt him in a point system that rewards consistency. Yet Logano has been so polished, so on top of his game this season he’d be leading the points without a Chase. Both drivers are capable of winning at any track on the circuit, exactly the type of talent you need when a victory advances you to the next round of NASCAR’s playoff. Both men, two of the youngest among the sport’s top-tier drivers are connected to technology and incredibly intelligent, a huge help to their crew with the sport’s modern changes and often one step ahead of their rivals. So what gives? Is it just a series of “bad luck” moments or do adjustments have to be made in the offseason?
The answer is unknown. But there’s an intriguing question here of how personality, especially in this age where track position is key has been injected into NASCAR. Both men have found themselves with more enemies than friends in the garage in recent years. The battle between Kenseth and Logano is well publicized but Penske’s younger driver has found himself battling with Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, and Kevin Harvick. A tangle at Fontana a few years back left Hamlin sitting on the sidelines for a month; the former teammates have mended fences but aren’t exactly best friends. Keselowski, meanwhile has triggered incidents with Jeff Gordon, Kenseth, and Hamlin which wind up centering around the same issue amongst the veterans: respect.
What I think of whether this duo respects other drivers on the grid is completely irrelevant. NASCAR clearly thinks Kenseth went over the line in issuing his two-race suspension. But no penalty for the veteran – who remained adamant this weekend he wouldn’t change a thing – changes the fact he almost certainly ruined Logano’s title chances. That issue was based around respect. Then, take a look at what happened Sunday at Texas. You know the first driver to greet Johnson in Victory Lane? It was Gordon, ecstatic to see a potential Chase bid robbed from under Keselowski’s nose a year after contact between the two at Texas cost him a potential title. No matter what we, the media feel or even NASCAR other peers in the garage area look at Penske and see what they perceive to be a lack of respect.
Look, I get it; two races is a small sample size in a Chase format where winning, no matter how you do it advances you to the next round of the playoffs. Yet take a look at the current Final Four in position to advance beyond Phoenix. There’s Gordon, in the midst of a farewell tour who isn’t going to be spun by anyone other than perhaps Clint Bowyer. Next is Kyle Busch, a man whose reputation has been rebuilt with newfound maturity after his Daytona injuries. Martin Truex, Jr. sits third, in position as a Cinderella story as a guy who people feel deserve a break. Kevin Harvick? OK, let’s not go there but what if he gets turned at Phoenix for his actions at Talladega? That puts Carl Edwards in position to take the spot, a once-controversial driver who has mended fences with rivals Keselowski and Kenseth in recent years. The Final Four could very well composed of some of the most popular guys inside the garage as of late. Keeping your nose clean, remaining on friendly terms and not hurting someone’s feelings has its perks.
I know what you’re saying. “Do Joey and Brad need more friends? Isn’t that so high school? Doesn’t that have nothing to do with sports?” It all sounds so Mean Girls and silly when you get down to it. I agree Johnson would have likely shown as much aggression with Keselowski regardless of whether the Gordon incident happened last year.
But still. You wonder what would have happened with Kenseth had Logano actually reached out and apologized. You wonder if Keselowski’s “tell it like it is” philosophy might leave a few less drivers on the track leaving him room on a restart. It all sounds so ridiculous… yet there’s signs friendship could have made an impact.
We were always told nice guys finish last in sports. Yet isn’t it weird being nicer might have made a difference in Penske finishing first?
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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I certainly hope that isn’t the case. I don’t need 43 BFF’s racing every weekend. You can have rivalry and passion without going full-Bowman Gray. Kenseth went full-Bowman Gray and I lost a lot of respect for him.
I’ll try and put this so the writer of this article and SD Grady can understand. I am really tired of under talented writers saying stuff that they think people will go along with because it is the trend. Penske drivers are each individuals. Brad has not had a part of this mess with Joey. It is beyond me why Grady called both spoiled brats. Frontstretch is usually the only articles I really enjoy reading but>>>>>>>>>>>this article sounds like Tom B has been drinking the Nascar Koolaid. It is so obvious that your brown nose belong to Hendrick drivers. Gordon caused his own mess last year. Get over your self Bowles.
I agree. The comment about Gordon being the first to Victory Lane somehow had to do with Kes is pretty ridiculous. No, it couldn’t be the fact that Gordon owns the car that Johnson is driving, he is a teammate, or the fact that he always goes to Victory Lane to congratulate a Hendrick driver when they win. It had to be about Kes, right? Based on the past few articles, its well established which side of the fence Bowles is on.
This whole incident and how it has been handled collectively has made pretty much done with Nascar. Logano is being vilified for racing hard and the media, who are supposed to have knowledge of the sport, keep this narrative going that he was somehow in the wrong simply because he didn’t say sorry? Are you kidding me? What a bunch of whiny millionaire panzy’s. No wonder no fans can relate to these drivers.
I don’t read this article as an attack on any driver but more of asking a question dealing with driver to driver relationships. What level of driver to driver etiquette is appropriate in racing? In my opinion it’s a very good question that has a huge bearing on the actual sport. The sport that I want to see has competitors. Not little wussy men nor blood thirsty gladiators but aggressively sporting competitors. This is no longer my sport. I do not like what i see. From the constricting one sided rules package that the governing body puts out to the dull coliseums that make up the playing surface throwing in the quality of coverage and now adding established competitors reacting badly to newer competitors that want to up the game and make things harder for them.
In the current situation you have a guy pile driving someone that he felt broke the code and took something away (even though it was never his to begin with.) Among the reasons state was the he didn’t apologize. Really? Fans are flocking to the crybaby and demonizing someone that races hard? geez…
tighten up those belts and get ready to go green driver…
Boogity boogity boogity let’s go paradin’ boyzzzz!
It’s more like Boogity boogity boogity, let’s get in line, on track and off.
It IS a mean girls mentality of which Team Penske continually rises above, and yet are considered the “brats”. I do not like this emphasis on personality in this sport now, especially when the slant has become so one sided and completely irrelevant. Logano raced and raced the way he was raced, now he is on par with a serial killer.
How convenient and easy the faux narrative disguised as fact has become. Brad Kes, who is very smart and is very astute to the mentality and current state of the sport is considered an idiot. He is considered an idiot by people who can’t even figure out or care that they have a butt crack in their jeans when they walk and their greasy t-shirts are too small to cover their big fat hairy stomachs. Why is the jealousy and misguided angst Team Penske’s problem to bare and solve? Ford is not the fan favorite, nor or their drivers who go about their business doing what they are paid to do. The media perpetuates a lot of this garbage with their extreme bias and slant to stir up the masses. The only “bad” Team on the track according to the dumb and stupid are Team Penske they drive Fords, all Chebbies/drivers..good. All personalities are sainted but Penske drivers. The only ones who are not complaining is Team Penske. This is weird time we live in. And the personality contest never lasts and is more often than not a poor barometer for character.
…And people can’t stand winners. Especially in today’s climate.
You are a moron.
Wait, I meant you are a drama queen moron.
kb…Excellent comments with a lot of intelligence shown on your part. I noticed this all the way back to Carl Edwards retaliating again Brad K. When Brad and Joey are interviewed, they show more unrecognized class than almost anyone. Very level headed and professional. I thought Matt looked silly and out of character when he went after Brad between the haulers. But, it was easy for him to vent on Brad because everybody else hated him. Same thing with Jeff Gordon going after Brad. Brad and Joey have become the scapegoats for everyone else’s frustrations. And the fans are ignorant enough to fall for it. Matt can’t seem to get off his popularity high horse right now as he demonstrates how to not let go of an offense. It’s making me sick of the sport.
Thanks Rb, that is the way I see it too. They are the scapegoat for all Nascars ills and fellow driver frustration (they are not responsible). They are the ones driving like the Nascar of old, and the one’s demonizing them are the ones coveting the “good old days”, I find it funny. They have been fantastic given the shitz storm falsely thrown their way as usual..and I don’t see this idiotic mindset and media baiting the sheep abating any time soon.
Tom, I cannot recall if it was you, but one of The Frontstretch writers indicated the apathy towards “the spoiled rich kid” from Ct. It has much merit regarding the hatred for a guy from the north. I am from Ct. I know where he lived, drove by it every summer going to a cottage on a lake about 45 minutes east. it is as blue collar as you can get. No gated billionaire houses there.
I have many family members established down in the south and doing very well. The war is still alive in well regarding what is thought about the North. The Mason/Dixon is more than a geographical historical marker today. Family has served in special forces and the Middle East arena and have settled down south. My ex sister in law (from the deep south) thought she hit the jackpot with marrying my brother..after all everybody from Ct. is RICH, RICH, RICH. the look when she drove up to our very clean, very nice middle class house two short blocks from Long Island sound was priceless. She assumed we all lived like the folks in Greenwich Ct and had servants, country club memberships and private shoppers. Somebody made a mention of the drivers from the “west” they didn’t see the difference with an outside east coast northerner. The answer is simple, the “west” didn’t beat them in the war. And the North in a lot of circles is still viewed as the enemy. Nascar and it’s fans certainly hold that tradition proudly.
… I just saw Tom’ s “other column. Talk about stirring the pot. Jeez, is this a Jerry Springer type thing or an actual factual honest look at racing. Seems the immature Matty actions have more merit than the actual racing. How sad. Sweet Jesus, how sad. :(
It would be interesting to see if Matt’s reaction was different if it hadn’t happened with 5 laps left.
Toms right. Im not here to bash joey and the people who think it shouldn’t be an issue are penske fans or new to this sport. Joey has adopted brads racing philosophy. You can just walk away and next week is a new week. It doesnt work that way. These guys spend virtually every weekend together through the year. Had he reacted differently after kansas, I have no doubt martinsville would have been different. They are so worried about getting respect that they forget to give it. Thats what caused bk to get bloodied up last year. You dont HAVE to appologize, but dont cry when it comes back. I give logano credit. He hasnt whinedall week. These two just need to be respectful racers.
I like that the Penske teams are aggressive, they have the us against the other 41 drivers attitude. Wasn’t the knock on JL when he was with JGR that he wasn’t aggressive enough and was always getting pushed around on the track, he was soft. Maybe he didn’t like getting fired and figured out that he wouldn’t be around very long driving nice. I have seen Matt Kenseth get pushed around a lot and never do anything, or say anything. This was frustrating and annoying being a fan of his. But it seems like the only two he will go after is Brad or Joey. The drivers that seem to have problems with them are drivers that are on the down side of their careers or haven’t won as much as they once did, and feel threatened.
Oh and kb, quit acting like nascar treats penske or ford differently. Thats bs. Thats the whiner thing that your driver didnt even do. Take lessons from joey and dont comment with conspiracy theories about how your team has been screwed. You got a gimme at dega thanks to harvick. Jr was gonna spank that azz! Now why didnt anyone tell me my belly was showing?!!!!!
The Penske guys are just the “black hats” NASCAR needs. It’s clear there are more people in the garage that don’t like them than like them. This year aside, Joey Logano looks poised to go on a crazy run of dominance. He’s finally tapping his potential. Not a Logano fan per se, but I would love to see him keep winning and getting all the hate form the stands. It makes a great storyline for the next few years.
Reading replies about Kenseth / Logano, and it’s obvious the fans are just as much a problem as anyone else in NASCAR. There are clearly two factions: One side who views racing as a self policing sport – let them beat and bang on each other, and let them crash one another to settle their differences, or perhaps fist fight each other in the pits/garage. The other longs for Supreme Government control (aka King France) to ensure no car is ever touched or scratched by a competitor, to ensure nobody ever shows human emotion, and basically to sanitize racing of all things that make it interesting to watch. The only thing both sides seem to agree on is calling those with opposing viewpoints childish names.
Objectively, the Kenseth/Logano thing is just one of those racing deals. Matt and Joey clearly are not best of friends, and have not been since long before the incident at Kansas. That automatically puts them on a shorter leash when dealing with one another – meaning any perceived slight by one towards the other is magnified by their disdain for one another. Thus, Kansas happened, then Martinsville happened. It’s no surprise, and was expected by anyone who grew up with and views racing as a somewhat self-policing sport. No doubt, had the tables been turned, Logano would have reacted similarly. His actions in the past toward Hamlin support this theory. And that’s fine.
These guys are around each other every week. There are 43 drivers and hundreds of crew members working together in tight confines. Just like anywhere else in life, not everyone will get along, and at some point a catalyst will spark a feud. It’s almost guaranteed. The sad thing is, too many fans have this utopian view of how everyone should behave at all times, and quite frankly, it is unrealistic to expect any human being to be a perfect angel at all times. That’s part of what makes things interesting on this earth. Imagine how dull it would be if everyone were perfect. Nobody ever challenged each other, when faced with a tougher competitor instead of mounting the best challenge he could, one would just step aside and say kindly, “You’re better than me, so go ahead, I insist.” The fastest car always wins, the underdog always loses, and everybody is too good of a sport to get upset about losing and challenge the status quo. Where’s the fun in that?
So be careful what you wish for. If NASCAR is cleaned up and sanitized with a big bucket of Clorox, and nobody ever bumps another car, nobody ever fights for position (just pulls over and lets the other go by), and nobody steps up to be the antagonist in the story, then there will be nothing to watch. Might as well just hold qualifying and declare the fastest time the winner, and give them the trophy. Sure, they’ll all be perfectly manicured, exquisitely mannered, superb little role models for the children, but they’ll be boring as hell to watch.
Well said. It wasn’t that long ago that people were complaining about the drivers being too “vanilla”. Well guess what, they are human, they get mad, some of them like each other better than others and yes, they will wreck each other once in a while. That variation goes for the fans as well. In the prior to PC era, the fans were engaged enough to like and dislike various drivers and that could change on a moment to moment basis — as when Big E turned Labonte at Bristol and Rusty & DW got into it.
It seems with Logano that so many of his fans want to make him out to be some poor vilified guy. I don’t happen to think so, he is aggressive in his own right so you know what, sometimes you reap what you sow. The fact that the fans were cheering because he got wrecked at Martinsville, well, big deal. It happens to a lot of drivers. Fans have booed and jeered at drivers since cars started being raced. Logano standing there calling the fans names and saying he was “disgusted” isn’t going to make anyone like him better and will more likely just encourage it.
Considering how NASCAR tromps all over racing for the most part with their kit cars and standardized everything, plus bullying the drivers into not being able to express themselves in any way about things they don’t like (and no I’m not talking about wrecking other drivers) or they are fined or put on super secret probation for not agreeing with NASCAR. Let’s face it, NASCAR created the crapshoot format to get exactly this kind of thing. They wanted boy’s have at it until they didn’t. NASCAR can’t have it both ways.
I’m rather tired of everything being sanitized.
Martinsville Kenseth-Logano will be on every piece of “chase” or Martinsville marketing next year …Hmm seems a little hypocritical