2018 MENCS Season Review

December 19, 2018

From Brad Keselowski’s season-opening Clash win to Joey Logano’s dramatic championship-clinching victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Team Penske finished the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) season where it began – in Victory Lane. It was a stellar season all the way through as all three Team Penske Cup Series teams advanced to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs as they produced a collective seven wins, 33 top-five finishes, 62 top-10 results, four poles and 2,291 laps led.

Logano incredible run to the championship culminated with his victory in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 in Miami, his first MENCS title since he began racing full-time in the series in 2009. The championship marked the second series title for Roger Penske, whose team also captured the crown in 2012.

Driving the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Fusion, Logano made the championship winning pass entering Turn 1 on Lap 256 in the season finale, as he darted to the outside of fellow contender Martin Truex Jr. Logano completed the pass off Turn 2 and motored away over closing laps, as he raced home for the victory and championship glory by 1.725 seconds. He capped off his title-clinching performance at Homestead by leading the most laps (four times for 80 laps). The Middletown, Conn. native became the first driver from the state of Connecticut to win a Cup Series title and he was the fifth different driver to win the series championship in the elimination-style Playoff format.

“We did it! We won the championship! I can’t believe it. I don't know what to say,” said Logano after winning the title. “The Shell-Pennzoil team gave me a great Ford Fusion that I needed at the end to do my job. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We were the favorite, like I said before the race started. I am so proud of everybody for rising to the occasion. We executed down the stretch like nobody’s business. I have to thank everyone that supports us. Shell and Pennzoil, SKF, Ford. We got Ford not only the driver’s championship but the manufacturers’ championship. I can’t wait to break that Mustang out next season. I worked my whole life to get here and to win a championship and we have been so close. It has been 10 seasons of fighting for this. Todd made a good adjustment at the end and we had that no quit attitude. I knew we had a short-run car. I said it before the race started that if it was anything longer than 25 laps we were going to be in trouble. It came down to the short run and we are champions.”

Before even getting to the title race, Logano posted another dramatic win in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the Championship 4 round. As Logano earned his third opportunity in five seasons to race for a championship in the NASCAR Playoffs, the Martinsville victory allowed the No. 22 team to focus on Homestead and preparing the best car and game plan to capture the championship. At Martinsville, Truex Jr. passed Logano for the lead on lap 499 but the Team Penske driver outdueled his rival to the finish line in a classic fender-banging short track finish. Logano crossed the finish line one car length ahead of Truex(officially measured at .107 seconds). The win marked the first Martinsville victory for Logano in 20 starts at paperclip-shaped track and he led 309 of 500 laps to represent his personal best for most laps led in an MENCS race.

“That was just a hard, great race and NASCAR racing at its finest,” said Logano after the victory. “We didn’t wreck each other. We bumped into each other a lot and that is what this sport was built on. I am just glad we finally won at Martinsville. It has been so long and we have had so many chances and it feels like sweet redemption.”

Strong results throughout the year put Logano in a position to compete for the title in NASCAR’s postseason. He scored his first MENCS win of 2018 in April’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano led four times for 70 of 188 laps, including the final 42 laps, as he scored his third career victory at Talladega. Logano survived two chaotic restarts on laps 159 and 171 to produce the victory, as he held off Kurt Busch by a scant .127 seconds for the win.

“I had a very fast Shell-Pennzoil/Autotrader Ford all day,” said Logano after the Talladega victory. “The Fords dominated today. I am so proud to be in a Blue Oval with Roush Yates horsepower under the hood. You just hope to get in the right lanes at the right time and make the right moves. It is always exciting to win at a superspeedway, especially Talladega because you never know you’ve got it until you cross the line. After waiting a full year since our last win it feels so good to get back in victory lane.”

Logano closed the historical 2018 season with three wins, 13 top-five finishes, 22 top-10 results and a pole. During the Playoffs this season, Logano and the Shell-Pennzoil team turned up the heat as they produced two wins and six top-five finishes on the road to the title.

Brad Keselowski waved the green flag on the 2018 season with a win in the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway for his first victory in the season-opening exhibition event. Keselowski’s win was the fourth for Team Penske in the unofficial debut race of the season. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion grabbed the lead for the final time when he passed Chase Elliott on lap 39. From there Keselowski held off teammates Logano and Ryan Blaney as he edged Logano to the finish line by .102 seconds, while Team Penske flexed its muscle to open the year.

“I am really proud of the whole effort,” said Keselowski. “What a way to start Speedweeks, putting the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane.  I was worried about the run but the car was way overheating there at the end. Doug Yates and his guys did a good job giving me something real durable to take all that and keep digging. I am really proud of my team.”

Keselowski’s first official points win of the 2018 season was one he won’t soon forget. Keselowski grabbed the lead from Kyle Larson with 22 laps to go and never looked back as he won the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in early September. The win marked Keselowski’s first in 10 races at Darlington and the first for Team Penske at Darlington since Bobby Allison swept both races at the 1.366-mile speedway in 1975.

The final caution period on Lap 345 and the ensuing round of pit stops was the turning point for Keselowski and the No. 2 team at Darlington.  He was running second behind Kyle Larson when Keselowski made his final stop on Lap 346. The No. 2 crew won the race off pit road, giving Keselowski the lead for the final restart on Lap 348. Once in the lead, Keselowski drove away from Larson and his teammate Logano over the final 19 laps, as he officially captured his first Darlington victory by 1.224 seconds.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew. We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead,” said Keselowski in Victory Lane. “How cool is this winning in Rusty Wallace’s Throwback car, the Southern 500, Throwback Weekend. I'm just really, really thankful of the team effort that it took to win this race. I knew if we could get out front there with 20 or so to go that we could drive away.”

The second win of 2018 for Keselowski came with a dramatic pass for the lead in the final laps. He passed Denny Hamlin at the entrance to Turn 3 with two laps to go to capture the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The performance was epic as it produced the first NASCAR Cup Series victory for Roger Penske’s team at the 2.5-mile speedway.

A gutsy pit call by crew chief Paul Wolfe put Keselowski in position to win the Brickyard. Under Wolfe’s direction, Keselowski was the final competitor to pit during a cycle of green flag stops. He then captured the lead on lap 136 and ran up front before he returned to pit lane on lap 143. Moments after Keselowski visited the pits, the ninth caution flag of the race waved.  That allowed Keselowski – whose car was equipped with fresher tires – to restart seventh when the race went green on Lap 148.

Driving the Discount Tire Ford Fusion, Keselowski stormed through traffic and was up to third-place when the 10th and final yellow flag slowed the pace on lap 155.  Keselowski and the race leader Hamlin scampered away on the restart. Keselowski and Hamlin nearly made contact, but Keselowski had the position on Hamlin and he held serve to cross the finish line .904 seconds ahead of Hamlin.

“My crew chief Paul Wolfe made a heck of a call there to pit late in that final run,” said Keselowski. “We had new tires for that restart. Our Discount Tire Ford wasn’t dominant by any means but Paul and everyone on the team executed an incredible race. I just had to do my job and here we are in Victory Lane at the Brickyard. To give Roger Penske his first Cup win here at the Brickyard is just an incredible feeling. This the first win for Discount Tire in the Cup Series which is great.”  

Keselowski scored one of the biggest wins of his NASCAR career, and an impressive third consecutive victory, in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in September. Driving the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Fusion, Keselowski gave Team Penske win number 500 as an organization and it allowed him to tie legendary driver Mark Donohue for most all-time wins as a Team Penske driver. Keselowski’s victory also propelled him into the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs.

The No. 2 Autotrader pit crew turned in one of their most impressive performances of the season at Las Vegas despite temperatures on pit road that soared past 100 degrees. Five times during the race the squad beat all other teams off pit road, giving Keselowski the lead each time.  

 “What a special day - 500 wins for Team Penske, three in a row this season and the first win in the Playoffs,” Keselowski said. “There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them.”

Keselowski advanced to the Round of 12 in the Playoffs before he was eliminated after the October race at Kansas Speedway. In addition to his three wins, Keselowski claimed 12 top-five and 20 top-10 finishes as he led 705 total laps in a strong and memorable season.  

“I want to thank everyone on the Discount Tire team for their hard work this season,” said Keselowski, the 2012 MENCS champ. “Congratulations to Joey and everyone on the No. 22 team. Winning the championship is so special and I’m happy for all of those guys.” 

Ryan Blaney scored his first MENCS victory with Team Penske in the inaugural Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The win marked his second career victory in 119 MENCS races. Blaney was running third in the No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Fusion on the final lap when leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson tangled while battling for the win. Blaney worked his way past the leaders through the final corners to claim the victory and advance for the Round of 12 in the Playoffs.      

“We restarted sixth and got up to third with a couple of laps to go,” said Blaney said. “I was really just riding there in third and we were going to advance to the next round on points. I saw them get close to each other through the oval and I was like, ‘Oh, something might happen here.’ They touched and I was lucky to sneak through there. I’d rather go out and dominate the race, but you’ve got to take them how you can get them. We put ourselves in position. We did a great job all day of winning a stage and putting us in a good spot for points. It just worked out for us.” 

Blaney, who also bowed out of the Playoffs after the Kansas race, led Team Penske this season with three pole positions (Las Vegas, Pocono and Texas) and he produced eight top-five and 16 top-10 finishes.

“Huge congratulations to Joey and the entire Team Penske organization on the second Cup Series championship,” said Blaney. “I’m also very proud of my entire No. 12 team and all the hard work they’ve put in this year and we hope for a lot more success in 2019.”

As Team Penske transitions to the new Ford Mustang for MENCS competition in 2019 and looks to defend its title, the New Year promises to bring plenty of excitement and opportunity for Logano, Keselowski, Blaney and all three of the organization’s teams racing at the top level of NASCAR.