NASCAR Cup Series 2017 Team Penske Season Review

December 21, 2017

Back in February, the “World Center of Racing” ushered in a new season of racing and excitement and anticipation filled the air for the opening of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS). The new season brought about change with a new title sponsor and a new playoff and points system. For Team Penske it also brought a strong commitment to the future of the sport.

Prior to the cars turning a wheel on track, Team Penske and Shell-Pennzoil announced a landmark contract extension, one that would see driver Joey Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon continuing as cornerstones with the No. 22 Ford through 2022 and beyond. Logano and Gordon had proven to be one of the winningest tandems over the past several seasons and had been formidable championship contenders since the 2014 season when the team qualified for the inaugural Cup Series “Championship Four.”

Logano got off to a strong start in 2018, parking the Shell-Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane at Daytona for the season-opening Clash exhibition race. In a wild Daytona 500, Logano’s Shell-Pennzoil Ford started running short of fuel on the final lap, so he helped push Ford Performance teammate Ryan Blaney, propelling Blaney to a career-best second place finish in the “Great American Race.”

In the second race of the season, 2012 MENCS Champion Brad Keselowski put on an impressive performance as he led the closing laps at Atlanta Motor Speedway and drove the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Fusion to victory for Team Penske’s first points-paying MENCS race of the season. Keselowski followed up the win by claiming the pole position at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the following week. Keselowski won again in the sixth race of the year at Martinsville Speedway, taking home his first Grandfather Clock trophy.

Logano and Keselowski emerged as early-season championship favorites, with a collective lowest finish of sixth through the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Logano cashed in on the early season performance by winning the ninth race of the year at Richmond Raceway, marking his second at the Virginia ¾-mile oval.

Unfortunately, an issue in post-race technical inspection with the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford clouded to the victory and it was ruled that the result did not count towards Logano’s playoff eligibility. Logano found himself collected in the “Big One” in a multi-car accident at Talladega Superspeedway the following week, and in a hard crash at Kansas Speedway the race after that. Those incidents put the No. 22 team in a position where they had to force the issue to try and produce another win through the summer stretch.

Team Penske’s technical alliance with the Wood Brothers proved fruitful as Blaney claimed his first career MENCS victory at Pocono Raceway in June, the 99th victory for the historic Stuart, Virginia-based Wood Brothers team.

Keselowski and the No. 2 Ford team battled through an up and down early summer stretch that saw the team either finish in the top five or be collected in early-race incidents. However, by mid-season, the “2 Crew” had returned to championship form and led a front-row sweep with teammate Logano at Michigan International Raceway, a track which team owner Roger Penske helped grow as owner from 1972 through 1999, when it was purchased by International Speedway Corporation.

While the No. 2 team managed to rebound from their mid-season struggles, the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford finished second at Richmond Raceway in September to fall one position short of qualifying for the Playoffs for the first time in Logano’s tenure at Team Penske.

With the Championship stage set, Keselowski entered the playoffs as a quietly-confident contender. Much of the focus was on the Toyota teams that had shown tremendous speed through the summer and leading up to the cutoff race in Richmond. However, the experience and chemistry between crew chief Paul Wolfe and Keselowski proved valuable on the 10-race run to the championship.

Through the opening round of the Playoffs, Keselowski never finished outside the top-10, with a best result of fourth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. In the Round of 12, the “2 Crew” got off to a slow start, finishing 15th at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but that turned out to be the team’s worst finish in the Playoffs. With the tough result out of the way, Keselowski remained poised with his best track on the horizon, Talladega Superspeedway.

A four-time winner at the Alabama 2.66-mile speedway, Keselowski entered the event knowing that a victory would secure his place in the Round of Eight. Qualifying sixth, the Rochester Hills, Mich., native spent the majority of the afternoon within sight of the race leaders. Keselowski and Logano worked the draft all afternoon to perfection, with Logano leading a race high 59 laps. However, in the closing stages, Keselowski slipped by Logano and into the lead and he held on to record his third victory of the season and 24th of his career.

Through consistency in the Round of Eight and with the playoff points accumulated throughout the season, Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford advanced to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It marked the third time in four years a Team Penske team had been in the season finale with an opportunity to win the title.

Unfortunately, Keselowski lost the handling in his car late in the race and dropped to the seventh position and he finished the season ranked fourth in the championship standings. With the result, Keselowski finished with his fifth top-five points ranking over his last seven MENCS seasons as he continued to prove he is one of the most consistent title contenders in the sport.

By the end of the season, Team Penske’s two-cars had finished in the top-five 25 times, winning four races and leading 1,154 laps, almost 11 percent of the laps completed for the season. Along the way, the team announced Keselowski would return for multiple years to come, and long-time XFINITY Series sponsor Discount Tire would move up to the Cup Series to become a primary sponsor on the No. 2 Ford Fusion.

Toward the end of 2017 it was also announced that Blaney, the long-time Team Penske XFINITY Series driver and rising star of the sport, would move from the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford to the No. 12 Ford in 2018 as a third full-time entry for Team Penske in the MENCS. The 2017 season proved to be Blaney’s breakout year, winning a race and qualifying for the Playoffs.

While the season may not have been what Logano expected, he and wife Brittany shared exciting news with the NASCAR world, announcing they were expecting their first child in January. The Loganos were not the only ones to have big news off the track.

Keselowski and long-time girlfriend Paige White got married prior to the season in a small ceremony surrounded by their closest family and friends.

With some exciting happenings off the track, Team Penske looks to carry the momentum from a strong 2017 into the New Year with great anticipation for the 2018 season.