LOUDON, NH — Team Penske talked about needing to find more speeding following solid, but not great, days last Sunday in Atlanta. One week later, they looked improved. Granted, it was greatly different racing packages as last week was with the 550 horsepower package and this one the 750, but nevertheless, their trio of drivers showed on Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway why we can’t overlook them quite yet.
Brad Keselowski had a fast No. 2 Ford. He won the second stage of the race after being second in the first stage. He just didn’t have enough in the end to seriously challenge Aric Almirola for the win in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 and even lost second to Christopher Bell with 35 to go.
Still to come away with a third place run was momentum changing. Yes, he had led 53 laps and didn’t win, but this was just his third top five in the last 11 starts on the season though too.
“(Aric Almirola) was just lights-out fast that last run, or the last two runs, and just drove by everybody,” said Keselowski. “It was pretty amazing. We were good, but we weren’t great, so a solid day. It was pretty smart (to call the race early). You’ve got to keep in mind that what you can see on TV is not what you can see in the car. We see a lot less in the car than you can even on site, so whether it’s Circuit of the Americas where we had no visibility or here bad things happen when you can’t see.”
Joey Logano has to be wondering if this was a day of what might have been. Logano, got some rubber in his throttle line following that opening lap crash. When the field came down pit road for the red flag due to rain, a crew member opening a part of his hood to get a photo of what was going on. That’s a no-no. NASCAR saw that and penalized him on pit road once we got back going.
While they elected to fix his No. 22 Ford, it cost them two laps too. He still fought back to finish fourth for just his fourth top five finish in the last 13 races run on the season and only his second in the last eight in general.
He got one of his laps back on the Lap 31 caution then the other on Lap 138. He’d then charge up to his second straight fourth place run in Loudon.
“When you come to your home track all you want to do is win,” Logano said. “A straight kick to the gut to start the race with a piece of rubber getting in the linkage, the throttle linkage, and not letting me get wide-open. All we did was take a picture under the red flag, underneath the hood to see what was under there. We took a picture with a camera phone and they gave us a two-lap penalty for that. I understand the rules are the rules, but it’s also a safety factor and the last thing you want is a throttle to stick and get hurt. I don’t know. Hindsight is 20/20, but you would never know what it was if you didn’t take a picture, but it still had the piece of rubber in it. It’s frustrating. We got a good finish out of it, but it’s frustrating when you’re at your home track and you feel like you could have got a win out of it, out of a safety issue that we got a penalty for.”
Ryan Blaney gave them three cars in the top five with a fifth place run in his No. 12 Ford. It was his fourth top 10 in his last five New Hampshire starts as he led the second most laps today with 64. He won the first stage and was third in the second one but used his tires up too much in late race battles and faded to fifth.
“I thought we were pretty good. We just got loose when the sun started to go down, and as it got darker, we got looser and just couldn’t really keep up with that. We kind of fell off the pace there at the end. When we had the lead I was kind of riding around, and I knew Aric and (Brad Keselowski) were there and I was trying to manage my tires, but as soon as Aric got by (Keselowski), he was on me incredibly quick and I couldn’t push any harder. Overall, not a bad run. The three best cars in the top five is not bad, just still have to keep doing a little work, but we’re getting there.”
Where this is big is, Penske has been among the top teams on 750 tracks this season. Last year, Team Penske looked really good in New Hampshire and that translated well over to the postseason in which Keselowski won the playoff race at Richmond and led the most laps in the Championship 4 at Phoenix. Logano, led the most laps earlier this year in Phoenix and finished second. He was sixth in Martinsville, third in Richmond and if not for an early race penalty would have likely been in the hunt for a win as he made up two laps to finish fourth, one spot behind Keselowski but one spot ahead of Blaney.