Sprint Cup Preview 2013: Penske Racing Has New Brand, New Driver, But Defending Champion
Sometimes going out in style means to win the big one. Some players retire from ball sports after winning the big game. Look at Jerome Bettis, who got his first Super Bowl win in 2005 and elected to go out on top.
It's a bit different with NASCAR, as some drivers decide to continue on, even with changes that come after a title run.
Penske Racing certainly saw changes come last year, both announced for 2013 and during the season. The biggest change overall for the team will be the cars it's team drives, and not just the fact they are the all-new "Generation 6" design. Following the season-opening Daytona 500, Penske announced his team would be leaving Dodge at the end of the year, and moving over to Ford. This meant that entering 2013, no Dodge team would be fielded unless a new deal with another organization would come about.
But, Penske's teams didn't worry about moving from one brand to another...they ended up taking home a championship.
During the season, however, things took a big twist as then-driver A.J. Allmendinger was suddenly suspended prior to the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona for failing a drug test. Sam Hornish Jr. then was called up to take over the ride for the time being, and ultimately would finish the year in the team's other car.
He would do the team proud, but would not be the one behind the wheel entering 2013.
Now, a new year is on the horizon, and the duo at Penske is ready for their new looks, and one is hoping to do something that in the last decade has only been done by one driver, and that's repeat as champion. Here's a preview of the driver line-up for Penske Racing in 2013:
Brad Keselowski: No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion
If there was ever a doubt in anyone's mind the kind of driver Brad Keselowski could be, his run to beat the best driver in Chase history proved it. From the beginning, he was confident in what he could do in the final 10 races, and went out and won the first race, beating Jimmie Johnson not on pit road, but on the track.
Two weeks later, another victory at Dover. But then, the team of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus began nipping away, bit by bit, and put the pressure on.
Still, Keselowski never flinched. He looked right in the eye of the 48 team, and went right after them, never yielding. Then, at the final race of the year, the cards fell their way. It initially appeared their strategy would not work, and Johnson would take away the title from right under their nose. But, a missing lug nut, and a broken rear gear, meant the luck ran out.
Keselowski finished the season with five victories, 13 top-fives and 23 top-10's. But in the end, the one thing that Keselowski wanted was the big trophy, and he has it.
It also gave Penske his first Sprint Cup championship, three years after Keselowski took home the Nationwide Series title. It was also the first championship for Dodge in over 30 years, last coming with Richard Petty in 1975. If taking Dodge out on top was the plan, mission accomplished.
Keselowski now gets to be behind the wheel of his third manufacturer since he entered NASCAR, but has the task of backing up his title run. Expect a lot of toasts with Miller Lite in hand after each victory, although hopefully he won't be as buzzed as he was when he won the title.
Joey Logano: No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion
The second Penske team is seeing it's fourth different driver in just two years. In 2011, Kurt Busch made the move from the No. 2 into the new No. 22 car for Penske, recording two victories. However, lots of turmoil ended that relationship.
As mentioned before, last year both A.J. Allmendinger and Sam Hornish were in the car. Now, a fresh piece of "Sliced Bread" is about to make a splash onto a new team.
Joey Logano's tenure at Joe Gibbs Racing ended at Homestead, and the young man officially could call himself a member of Penske Racing. The 2012 season was nearly a make-or-break deal for Logano, who was already under a lot of pressure from his debut at the wheel of the No. 20, formerly of Tony Stewart. But, in 2009, he had that task. He did win one race, although it came due to rain.
It would be nearly three years till he would win again, this time at Pocono, and without the use of rain, but did include a strong battle with Mark Martin for the victory. But that would ultimately be the highlight of his season.
Logano ended 2012 with that one win, two top-fives and 12 top-10 finishes. But now he has a new teammate, a new car, and what could be the best move of his career.
Next Team Preview: Hendrick Motorsports