Brad Keselowski

NASCAR America: Can Team Penske get back on track in Indianapolis? (video)

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Roger Penske is used to winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He owns a record 16 Indy 500 victories there.

But Penske still has yet to win a Brickyard 400 at IMS. While in other years, Team Penske’s chances may have been stronger, coming into the 2017 Brickyard 400 is a whole other ballgame.

Joey Logano has struggled terribly in the last 10 races. Since winning at Richmond (which was eventually encumbered due to a post-race inspection penalty), Logano has had seven finishes of 21st through 37th. He’s also dropped from fifth to 13th in the standings.

Teammate Brad Keselowski has had his own struggles, dropping from third to eighth in the standings.

The biggest problem that seems to be impacting Team Penske is a lack of speed, more so on Logano’s car, but an issue nonetheless for both cars.

Can Team Penske snap out of its funk and find the speed it’s been missing Sunday, and potentially give Captain Penske his first NASCAR Cup win at the track that means so much to him?

Check out the video above.

Ford teams continue to struggle for answers to speed, aero woes

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With eight wins in the first 19 Cup races this season – including three in the last six – you’d think Ford would be at the top of its game.

But such is not the case. While Toyota’s Martin Truex Jr. and Chevrolet’s Kyle Larson have been at or near the front often in recent races, Fords have dropped off in performance.

The two premier Ford teams, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing, have both struggled for more speed and to overcome aerodynamic issues.

“Aero is definitely an area we’re struggling,” Dave Pericak, Director, Ford Performance, said Thursday at Eldora Speedway. “We’re definitely not struggling from an engine perspective and many other areas, but yeah, aero, for sure, and we’re working on it.”

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski, has watched his driver slip from third in the Cup standings to eighth in the last eight races. During that stretch, Keselowski has finished 30th or worse (crashes) four times, and had just two top fives.

“We’re not in the best spot we’d like to be in,” Wolfe admitted Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Seems like the last couple months have definitely been a challenge and a little bit of a struggle for all of us at Team Penske, not just the No. 2 car.

“We’re really just trying to find out what to do to get some speed back in our cars. It seems like where we get the cars driving and the drivers are somewhat happy with what we call a raceable balance, we’re just off on speed at that point. We can get the cars to run a fast lap time, but the drivers say they’re just not drivable and can’t race that way. It’s been a challenge trying to get both right now, and for whatever reason, we seem to be off.”

MORE: Brad Keselowski says ‘poorly designed car’ makes it difficult ‘to put on a show’

Time is not a luxury Wolfe or anyone else at Team Penske has. Seven races remain until the playoffs.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Wolfe said. “There’s not too many races here until Chicago comes around, so we’re trying to figure it out, that’s for sure.”

Wolfe’s Team Penske counterpart, Todd Gordon, faces an even greater sense of urgency with the No. 22 of Joey Logano. Even though Logano won at Richmond earlier this season, the victory doesn’t count toward playoff eligibility because his car failed inspection after the race.

As a result, Logano is not locked into the playoffs and is in a seemingly must-win situation to secure a playoff berth. Things have gone from bad to worse of late: since his encumbered win at Richmond, Logano has finished between 21st and 37th seven times, with just one top-five and one other top-10 (plus a 12th-place finish) in the other three events.

Logano has fallen from fifth to 13th in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Wolfe can empathize with the plight of Logano and Gordon.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, but this sport over the years, there’s peaks and valleys,” Wolfe said. “We’re been on the good side and bad side before.

“We’re going to have confidence everyone at Team Penske and Ford will continue to work in the right direction and hopefully get our speed where we need it to contend for a championship later this year.”

A tale of two seasons in just 19 races

Fords enjoyed early season success, winning the season’s first two races at Daytona (Kurt Busch) and Atlanta (Keselowski).

Ford also won at Martinsville, Richmond and Talladega – and earned three more wins in the last six races, but those came on a road course (Sonoma), a restrictor-plate track (Daytona) and a triangle that is seemingly part superspeedway and part road course (Pocono).

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has two wins (Talladega and Daytona), as does Keselowski (Atlanta and Martinsville), while Kurt Busch (Daytona 500), Joey Logano (Richmond), Ryan Blaney (Pocono) and Harvick (Sonoma) all have one win each.

But check out some of the other recent Ford stats:

* At Michigan, in its corporate backyard, Ford had one car in the top five and led just two of the 200 laps.

* At Kentucky, Ford had no cars in the top five and led just seven laps.

* At New Hampshire last weekend, Ford had one car in the top five and led zero laps.

How did things fall off so quickly for Ford when it came to downforce and lack of speed? Wolfe has a theory.

“As the season went on, NASCAR started changing enforcement of some templates and some aero things, and for whatever reason, it seems like it affected the Fords maybe more than Toyota,” Wolfe said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Obviously, Toyota came out with a new car, they were slow getting going, but they definitely have it figured out and seem to have a little bit of an advantage right now.

“I feel like some of the rule changes on the aero side has really affected our cars a lot and trying to get them balanced out, back to where they were before some of those changes has been difficult for us.”

When Wolfe thinks he is starting to get a handle on things, other questions arise he told “The Morning Drive.”

“Is it more of a mechanical area that we’re missing with this package because of the aero shift?” Wolfe said. “Or the amount of downforce it is, is there something we’re missing mechanically with the platform of how we control our splitter or ride heights?

“Or is it just the fact those guys just have more downforce than us? Those are all the question marks and we don’t really have the answers right now. Maybe we can get out of our comfort zone and mindset of what has had success in the past and explore new things. We’ll continue to do that and pay attention to teams that are having success.”

Stewart-Haas Racing also has woes

Wolfe’s counterpart at Stewart-Haas Racing, Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, admitted to “Tradin’ Paint” on Thursday that his team is pretty much in the same boat as Team Penske.

“I hate to even say it but I agree with (Wolfe),” Childers said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “On one side of me, I feel that we’re in trouble. I don’t know if we will get caught up to where we need to be.

“I feel l like it’s time that Ford is going to have to push hard and come up with a new body and do something to get us back in the ballgame from the downforce side of things.”

Childers would like to see NASCAR get more involved in the disparity he believes has developed between Ford, Toyota and Chevrolet.

“I think it’s time for NASCAR to take all the cars to the wind tunnel again and figure out where we’re all at,” Childers said. “If there are people that are way off, other teams, then we need to figure out how to make it more equal. You hate to get into that again.”

Even so, Childers remains confident in his team, given that Harvick is the highest-ranked Ford driver (fourth) in the Cup standings.

“The downforce stuff, we’re not way off,” he said. “I feel like we’ve kind of had the best Ford week after week here lately. We’re pushing hard and we’re not going to give up by any means and I think everybody will see that in our performance.

“But on the other hand I do feel like it has hurt us a little bit more and we just have to figure out how to dig through it.”

Ups and downs are cyclical

Childers also mentioned the irony that it wasn’t all that long ago that SHR and Harvick were being looked upon as the kings of performance (albeit in Chevrolets), much like Truex and Larson are today.

“I look back at the 2014 and 2015 seasons and everybody used to complain about us being the fastest car every week, leading all those laps and always have a shot at winning,” Childers said. “Looking back, I don’t even know if we understood then exactly what we were doing to be that much faster than everybody else.

“I think it’s the same way with (Truex and Larson) right now. They’ve done a good job, have their cars where they need them to be, their drivers are doing excellent jobs, the pit crews are doing a good job.”

But there’s still the bottom line.

“We have to get faster race cars,” Childers said. “Our pit crews have done excellent, Kevin’s done excellent, we just have to be faster when we unload off the haulers. Hopefully, we can get caught up a little bit.”

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Retro Rundown 2017: Throwback paint schemes for Southern 500

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It’s once again almost time for the annual Throwback Weekend at Darlington Raceway that is capped off by the Sept. 3 Southern 500 on NBCSN.

That means what was once old is new again and that goes with the latest parade of retro paint schemes.

Here’s your guide to all of the paint schemes that will be driven in the Southern 500.

This post will be updated.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski will pilot the “Midnight” paint scheme Rusty Wallace made famous in the mid-90s during his time in Team Penske’s No. 2 car. This isn’t the first time Keselowski has driven this look. It was on his No. 2 Ford in August 2015 at Michigan.

Austin Dillon – This year marks the 30th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 win in the Southern 500. Richard Childress Racing is honoring that achievement by putting Earnhardt’s Wrangler paint scheme from that year on Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet and Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet.

Kevin Harvick – The No. 4 Busch Chevrolet will have a paint scheme that is based on the “Head for the mountains” commercials from the 1980s. Harvick won the 2014 Southern 500.

Kasey Kahne  Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet will pay tribute to Geoffrey Bodine, the first driver to win for Hendrick Motorsports in the Cup Series. The paint scheme is the same one Bodine had on the No. 5 in 1985 when it was sponsored by Levi Garrett.

Ty Dillon – Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet looks similar to the way it did in last season’s Southern 500. The car will yet again have a paint scheme that Smokey Yunick once used on the No. 13 car he owned in the 1960s.

Ryan Blaney – The Wood Brothers Racing car will have the same look as it did in 1987 when Kyle Petty drove for the team. That year Petty won the Coca-Cola 600 for one of his eight Cup victories.

Ryan Newman – Like Austin Dillon, Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet will evoke Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 Wrangler paint scheme.

Aric Almirola – Four months after Almirola was born in March 1984, Richard Petty won his 200th and final Cup race in the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. Almirola will sport the same paint scheme “The King” took to victory lane that day.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.  – In his final Southern 500 start, Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet will bear the paint scheme Earnhardt used during his two championship seasons in the Xfinity Series in 1998-99. Earnhardt drove the No. 3 AC Declo car for Dale Earnhardt Inc., winning 13 over the course of the two seasons.

What drivers said after New Hampshire race

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I put us behind on Friday with the backup car getting in a wreck, but this – I really wish we would race that car that was in the hauler, but this one they did a great job getting it as close as they could working on the balance, getting it good yesterday and team effort. This is a total team effort all around.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “This is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second.  I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.  It’s been a tough couple weeks through the tech line, so if we make it through here and then have a good Tuesday at NASCAR, but we’ll see.’’

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We still had a shot, but on the last restart we got the inside lane there, restarted third.  It wasn’t the place to be, obviously.  I think (Denny Hamlin) started fourth and that was really the place I would have liked to have been.  And then we just didn’t get a good restart on the bottom and lost a couple spots and had to battle back and then just didn’t quite have the speed at the end of the race that we had the first 200 laps.’’

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “The guys did a great job. They made it a little better than it was in practice. They executed on pit road all day and did all the little things right. We didn’t have the speed that the Toyota’s had through the center of the corner. As the long run would go that gap got wider as we got worse. We hung in there and fought all day and everyone did a good job to get us a good finish.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 8th: “Those long greens are reminiscent of the old days where you would have green flag pit stops mixed in. It is neat to change lanes and try to find different things with the (PJ1) and the grip that they put down. When you are out there running and you get in that rhythm, you think if you preserve your tires you can get two or three-tenths when we get to Lap 50, half a second when we get to Lap 70. It gave you the old school feel of taking care of the tires. Overall, you have to go fast for 50 laps, that is all you have to do anymore. We need to get better on the short run speed.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 9th: “Yeah, that was a reasonable finish for us for sure. We weren’t probably as fast as we wanted to be, but we stayed very persistent as a team and that is good. The pit stop was a bummer. I am not sure what happened there. Nobody wants to see that happen. I don’t know if the compound made things any racier. It was certainly different but I don’t know if it was — I have to think about that one.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 10th: I just got it wrong at the start. I went off the flag and forgot that the pole sitter has to be the first one to the stripe; so I’ll take the responsibility on that one.  And then, we had an okay finish. We had decent short-run speed. We would just fall off too hard. I really thought we were going to be in a position for a top five but we ended up 10th.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 13th: “I feel like we probably won somebody some points in fantasy with passing all the cars from starting 31st. The car was pretty good. Honestly, I have had very few races at Loudon where I don’t have a good race car. We just have to qualify better so that I can take advantage of that and have track position the whole time.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 14th –  “We fought all day so I’m proud of our team. We got damage early on which cost us valuable track position. Overall it wasn’t the best day for us, but we learned some things that we can bring back for the fall race.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “We were able to run top-10 lap times all day. I still think there is some speed to be gained in the downforce of our cars, but I know that’s something we’re all actively working on improving. We pulled together as a team to recover from an early spin and got ourselves in a good position late in the race for a top-10 finish. We gambled on a strategy call for our last pit stop and it just didn’t work out. That happens sometimes in racing. Now it’s time to turn our focus towards Indianapolis Motor Speedway and work on our strategy for one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.  – FINISHED 18th: “We were 13th and 18th in practice. Didn’t have good speed all weekend. The best we were going to run was 10th probably, ended up 18th. That is the kind of risk we’ve got to take. We were hoping that the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and a couple of other guys that were kind of on the same strategy would stay out behind us.  But, I knew when nobody stayed out that as fast as that front four or five were it was impossible to hold them off. We’ve got to take risks though, but hopefully we’ve got a faster car when we are doing it and that might give us a little better shot at it.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 19th: “I feel like we started out OK, and I thought we made decent gains. About halfway I thought the track changed and all that stuff got off of it. We kind of got a little worse. We tried the long run and I couldn’t really get it. It didn’t play out for us. That stinks. I didn’t get a great finish out of it. The first half of the day went pretty good. We just need to figure out how to finish out the second half.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 20th: “Our Performance Plus Motor Oil Ford would start out really fast. But over the course of a run the handling would become more and more tight and we had a hard time getting through traffic. We were able to make gains throughout the course of the race and we were gaining on a few more cars when we just ran out of laps there at the end. We’ll take what we learned here shift our focus to Indy next week.”

Paul Menard — Finished 22nd: “The Sylvania / Menards Chevrolet came to life in the final stage of today’s race, but track position was so important. Matt Borland and all of the guys on this team kept adjusting on the car to help it turn through the center and get the drive off the corner right. We tried to stretch the fuel mileage and catch a caution late in the going, raced inside the top five, but the caution didn’t fall the way we hoped. Next week we head to my favorite track, so we’ll shift our focus and see what we can do at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 27th: “One of the positives from today is seeing the cars we raced around finish in the top 10. It reflects the speed we had. We struggled pretty much all weekend and the setup (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) and the engineering team came up with for today proved beneficial. At the end of the long runs, we were one of the fastest cars on the track. It was nice to earn stage points. It’s too bad our pit strategy didn’t pan out and contact with another car caused us to spin. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anything. We needed a caution at the end to get us back into contention but the race stayed green.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th: “We just broke. Plain and simple. It is not good, at all. Right now we are in the position where we have to execute. We have to finish the best as possible and we didn’t do that today. We have to go back to work and make sure our cars stay together and we have to get faster. All three of our cars were a little off today. I guess Brad (Keselowski) is probably the best driver at this race track, and I try to learn from him and he was struggling out there with me. It was a humbling day. This race team knows how to do this. All of Team Penske knows how to win races and make cars fast. They do it in a bunch of different series and have been doing it over here for years. We have to stay together. Stay as a team. Keep pushing. If it happens, it happens. Hopefully we can get some speed enough to squeak a win out before the playoffs.”

Erik Jones — Finished 40th: “I think we were just kind of three wide just kind of sandwiched (on pit road) in there and I came out and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) was on my door and the 5 (Kasey Kahne) came out and was on my door too, so just got too tight and made some contact. I guess it was just enough to let it cut the tire or something. Just really unfortunate. We’ve had some really bad luck this year and this is another one of those days, so hopefully we can turn it around.”

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Results, stats for Xfinity race at New Hampshire

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Kyle Busch claimed his third Xfinity win of the year with a 10 second margin of victory over Ryan Preece in the Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The top five was completed by William Byron, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski.

Only six cars finished on the lead lap in a race that was slowed by one accident and a 45-minute rain relay.

Click here for the race results