Brad Keselowski says ‘wins are huge’ in keeping, attracting sponsors

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Brad Keselowski was thrilled with his second Cup victory of the season, but the victory was more meaningful because the car’s sponsor, Reese/Draw Tite, serves as a primary sponsor for only two races.

“We’re fighting so hard to keep sponsors on our car and we have some gaps (in 2020) to fill there,” said Keselowski, whose other victory this season was in Atlanta with sponsor Autotrader.

“When we win with some of those partners, it’s a really big deal for us,” Keselowski added.

Reese/Draw Tite will be back as the primary sponsor on Keselowski’s car later this season. The brands were on Keselowski’s car twice in 2018 — at the first Martinsville race and Richmond playoff race.

Reese/Draw Tite sponsored Keselowski’s Truck Series team beginning in 2012. Reese/Draw Tite signed a multi-year sponsor deal with Team Penske in 2018.

“The wins are huge,” Keselowski said in attracting and retaining sponsors. “You have to win. The market loves winners, as it should. That’s what you would like it to be. You would like it to be about winning and sponsors that are connected to that. In my mind, that’s the way it should be.

“I didn’t come into this sport with a name that was just going to give me sponsors and the biggest sponsors out of the gate. With that in mind, our team has to win. (Car owner Roger Penske) is great because he’s so smart with these business-to-business deals. But even that, that’s really hard on him, and he doesn’t deserve that full burden. He’s worked his butt off, and he shouldn’t have to be in every board meeting and trying to solidify the deals, and I recognize that for him, and I’m proud of the efforts that he does put in, and the last thing I want to do is make him do more of them, right?

“So with that in mind, I hope that we can continue to attract the high‑level sponsors we need to be competitive at this level, and the best way I know how to do that is wins like today.”

Keselowski, who led 446 of 500 laps Sunday, says he plays a role in helping with sponsorship.

“It would be a lot easier to just be the race car driver, but I accept the fact that if we want to have the funding we need to be able to compete with the Toyotas specifically, who are certainly very high up on the funding level, we have to generate those revenues and those funds, and that’s the way we’re going to get back to Victory Lane,” Keselowski said. “You need that to be able to afford the engineering, to be able to afford the pit crew and still pay me to drive. So winning is very, very important.”

Keselowski also said he has five unfunded races to fill in the Xfinity Series this season that he hopes to be able to run but won’t without sponsors.

Roger Penske reveals he received kidney transplant in late 2017

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Car owner Roger Penske confirmed to reporters Friday that he had a kidney transplant at the Mayo Clinic shortly after the 2017 IndyCar season finale.

Penske had kept the procedure private until revealing it during a group interview in St. Petersburg, Florida. The NTT IndyCar Season opens there Sunday (12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Penske, who is 82 years old, received the kidney from his son, Greg.

A 2013 Autoweek story said that doctors diagnosed Penske with bladder cancer in 2005 and removed one of his kidneys.

Penske revealed his procedure as Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske, discussed his hip replacement surgery with reporters. That surgery also was done at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The Associated Press reported that Penske’s transplant came days after Josef Newgarden won the IndyCar title for Team Penske in 2017.

Penske’s teams have won 500 major races, 580 pole positions and 34 championships in 53 years. The team also has won 17 Indianapolis 500s. Team Penske won the Cup title last year with Joey Logano.

Also Friday, Penske spoke to a small group of reporters about changes that need to take place in NASCAR in the coming years.

One of Penske’s suggestions is to run Cup races on back-to-back days in the same location.

“If they make a change, we should run doubleheaders,” Penske said. “Saturday-Sunday. Maybe run 200 miles on Saturday, 300 on Sunday, they both count.”

Roger Penske: NASCAR must have Gen 7 by 2021; wants doubleheaders

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Roger Penske is adamant that NASCAR needs to have the Gen 7 car on the track by the 2021 season, and he has a few schedule ideas, too.

Speaking with a small group of reporters between practices for the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the team owner in NASCAR and IndyCar said he fully supports implementing the next-generational model in NASCAR’s premier series within two years because of its cost efficiency.

“It has to happen,” Penske said. “We have to make a change. Because the revenue side is not growing the way you want to, and the costs are continuing to go up.”

With Cup teams spending $10,000 on building parts that can be made for $1,500, Penske said “it doesn’t make any sense” and that’s why he’s in favor of NASCAR making changes “that don’t hurt the show.” New engine rules the past few years have cut costs by reducing inventory.

“The customer in the stands doesn’t know we have a super-super driveshaft or four types of brakes to run,” Penske said. “Think about it. You’ve got four cars and four to five combinations of brakes. Then you need four sets of them. Those are the things that cost money.”

Though NASCAR has said it wants to have its next-generation model on track by 2021, there have been some in the industry who are concerned that the timeframe is too tight. Real-world testing has yet to begin on the car, which remains in the blueprint stages.

Penske said it isn’t too late to hit the 2021 target date (“Look, we’re changing stuff all the time and building cars already.”), but he has urged NASCAR CEO Jim France to pull the trigger on approving the Gen 7 design.

“We need to go,” Penske said. “I said to Jim, ‘Let’s make the decision and go.’ Like it or don’t like it, but we’ll race during the season, all be working on it, we’ll come out in ’21, we’ll have it.

“The sooner we get it out and get through all the noise and people like it or don’t.”

Penske likes using the term “Gen 7” to describe all of the overhauls being weighed by NASCAR, including the schedule. NASCAR president Steve Phelps has said there could be a fresh look in 2020 and ’21 with the season potentially beginning earlier and new tracks being added. Penske likes the idea of a more compact schedule with another twist.

“If they make a change, we should run doubleheaders,” Penske said. “Saturday-Sunday. Maybe run 200 miles on Saturday, 300 on Sunday, they both count.”

Penske and team president Tim Cindric said the NTT IndyCar Series could provide a good template for cost reduction in NASCAR. They estimated it costs a maximum of $10 million annually to field a championship-caliber car in IndyCar vs. $30 million in NASCAR.

“You can run a team (in IndyCar) for probably $3 to 4 million depending on what you pay a driver,” Penske said. “That’s the compact schedule, the fact we aren’t developing cars and spending money like in NASCAR, developing every week and finding something with new rules.

“That’s absolutely where NASCAR is going with the Gen 7, the season and number of races, all these things have to come together. They do that, it’ll make a huge step. All the owners have to realize it’s a business and you might want to do what’s best for you, but you better think about your company. My dad told me a long time ago that if you’re always thinking about where you go, but if the series isn’t healthy, you’re going to feel the impact. I think Jim and the team now is well aware we just have to get everybody on the same page.”

Penske praised the leadership of France, who took over as NASCAR CEO last August after his nephew, Brian, took a leave of absence because of drug possession charges.

“Brian was a good friend of mine and played a big role getting the TV stuff together,” Penske said. “I don’t want to ever water down what he supported the series and gave to the series, but Jim is very pragmatic and somewhat of a racer, too. He’s been involved in IMSA.

“I don’t think he thought he was going to be in the position he is, but he’s stepped up and the team he’s got here. (President Steve) Phelps is a very reasonable guy. Professional. And they’ve changed up the officiating. It’s much tighter, which is good. Lot of things have happened here.”

Joey Logano not surprised at Penske, Ford Mustang’s early success

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While many fans and teams were uncertain how the new Ford Mustang would perform upon its introduction to the Cup Series this season, Las Vegas winner Joey Logano, crew chief Todd Gordon and the rest of Team Penske embraced the change and newness.

“I think any time there’s a rule change like we have right now in NASCAR (the new aero package), it presents an opportunity to figure things out first,” Logano said to NBC Sports on Tuesday as part of a Panini/Donruss NASCAR trading cards media tour. “Like I said after (Sunday’s race at Las Vegas), we sure don’t have it figured out yet, but I’d say we’re doing pretty good with the speed we’re developing.

“You just have to figure it out a little better than the next guy, right? That’s the most important piece. I feel like we’ve made some good gains over the last few weeks as far as the racing side. Our qualifying efforts have been weak, so we have to make some more gains on that front. But I’m pretty proud of the effort of everyone to figure out the new rules package. As we keep going, the drivers are going to get better, the teams are going to get better and the racing is going to change. We just have to keep developing as fast as possible to stay ahead of it.”

Last year, several Chevrolet teams – particularly Hendrick Motorsports – struggled throughout the 36-race season. It took 21 races after Austin Dillon‘s Daytona 500 triumph last season before another Chevy won a Cup race. Chevrolet teams wound up winning just four races all season getting acclimated to the new body style.

But that’s not been the case with Ford and the Mustang. Leaving Las Vegas, five Mustangs and their drivers are in the top 11 in the Cup standings.

“First off, I think Ford’s done a great job collaborating with the race teams and everybody has made decisions together to make the best race car they can when they were designing the Mustang for NASCAR,” said Logano, the reigning Cup champion. “The other piece that is equally as big is the timing of it.

“Right now, with the new rules, everyone’s going through a development cycle, starting from the beginning again. Whether we were still racing the Fusion or Mustang, we’d still be developing at the same rate and learning things that we had no clue about because you’re asking something different out of the race car when you build it. So switching to the Mustang didn’t really have a penalty of starting from the beginning because everybody is starting from the beginning.”

Now that Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski have secured spots in the playoffs by virtue of their respective wins at Las Vegas and Atlanta, their teams can not only be more aggressive between now and the start of the playoffs in September but can also help their teammates – Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard of Wood Brothers Racing – to get on track and potentially get wins themselves.

“I think any time you have your teammate winning, it generates momentum within the race shop, which is good, and drives you to be that guy where everybody wants to be the top dog and you’re always fighting for that spot,” Logano said. “But we also work together real well to make sure we’re winning while we’re doing that.

“As far as the 12 car of Blaney, they’ve had a lot of speed but they just haven’t had things go their way in the first couple of races. So it’s early. I don’t think they have anything to worry about. They’ve got fast race cars, Blaney is a great driver. I think they’re going to be fine.

“As far as the 21 car (with Menard), they’ve been improving over the last year. With last year being their first year together with Paul and (crew chief Greg Erwin) at the Wood Brothers, it’s been a learning curve to figure things out. I can see them making gains as well throughout this year.

“As long as everyone is running good by the time when it matters the most, during the playoff time, that’s a big deal for (team owner Roger Penske). It’s nice to have two of them in, that’s great, we can race aggressive now, whether it’s pit strategy or the way I drive the car, we can make big moves, so that’s great. But at the same time, we still have to be concerned that the rest of our cars make the playoffs.”

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Winners and Losers: Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Roger Penske: For the second week in a row, his Cup team wins. Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta and Joey Logano won at Las Vegas.

Kurt Busch: The decision to not pit during the second stage allowed Busch to climb from 17th to first. He stayed toward the front the rest of the race, placing fifth. It marked the second time in three races the Chip Ganassi Racing driver has been Chevrolet’s top finisher this season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: His sixth-place finish marked his first top 10 on a 1.5-mile track in the last eight races on such tracks. His most recent top 10 at such tracks had been a 10th in last year’s Coca-Cola 600.

Kevin Harvick: For the second week in a row he finished fourth after a rough start to the weekend.

LOSERS

Kevin Harvick: He said after the race it was the second week in a row his team had been way off to start the weekend before calling for a top-five finish. When they get it right, look out.

Kyle Busch: A pit road speeding penalty kept him from winning Sunday’s Cup race and sweeping the Truck, Xfinity and Cup races at Las Vegas. Said Busch: “I certainly screwed up our day coming to pit road there.”

Cup Rule Book: NASCAR updated its rule on team members behind pit wall before this season, making it a penalty for such team members to make contact with the pit road surface. If so, that can count toward too many crew members over the wall. By the rule, NASCAR was right to penalize the pit crews of Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon during Sunday’s race when crew members behind pit wall touched the surface of the stall with their hand. By common sense, neither instance seemed egregious.

Jimmie Johnson: His 19th-place finish marked the eighth consecutive race on a 1.5-mile track he’s finished outside the top 10. His last top 10 at a 1.5-mile track was a fifth at last year’s Coca-Cola 600.