Captain's Corner: Assessing the NASCAR season entering Easter break
As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we will provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff throughout the 2017 season.
Heading into the first off week of a long 36-race season, Team Penske finds both of its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams in excellent position to challenge for the series championship this season.
Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford team has won two of the season’s first seven races, is ranked fourth in the series standings and he has collected a series-high 10 playoff points so far.
While Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford team has yet to score a victory, it has battled a slew of issues – some self-inflicted – and still posted four top-five and six top-10s in the first seven races. Logano sits fifth in the series standings and has earned one playoff point.
A welcomed break
Both teams’ crew chiefs welcome the week off for some much-needed rest and the opportunity to regroup.
“The start of the year is always taxing on the guys because there is a lot of west coast travel and you have to work so far ahead to make sure the cars are ready to be transported across the country,” said Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe.
“Our family members sacrifice a lot while we are off racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and, unfortunately, we miss a lot of important things that go on at home. So this Easter break comes at a great time because it’s a holiday, obviously, but it gives us a chance to recharge before we head into the meat of the schedule.”
Added Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon: “It’s important for all of us to take some time away from work and think about the other things in life.
“The dedication that we see out of our guys here at Team Penske and across the board in NASCAR is amazing and you really have to take the off-weekends and maximize those, because in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series we only get two.”
Wolfe is especially pleased with how his No. 2 team has started the year and how consistently strong it has been from qualifying through the races.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder of the way the No. 2 Ford team has started the year. We have a very strong team,” Wolfe said. “Many of the guys have been with us since I came up to this series in 2011.
“As we have guys move on or get promoted internally here at Team Penske, we have been able to fill those positions with people with experience. And I think that speaks volumes to the success we’ve had.”
Keselowski's early season success
Keselowski is averaging a 4.4 start so far this season – best in the series – and has led the fourth-most laps (232). He also has won one pole.
“The key for us this year has been the raw speed we’ve had. That is the foundation to everything we do,” Wolfe said. “We’ve qualified really well all year and Brad has driven some very smart races.
“Two wins in seven races is great, but we need to keep our head down and keep our focus throughout the summer months. That part of the season is made up tracks that haven’t always been our strong suit, but we’ve been working very hard to change that.”
Gordon believes the Easter break comes at a good time for his team, especially since teams have now raced on every type of track they will see this season except for a road course.
“We can regroup and evaluate our race program and know where we need to make gains going forward and where we’ve been the strongest,” he said.
“So, even though we’re taking some time away from work, we’ll still be able to come back to work and make strides in specific areas where we feel like we can improve our program the most.”
The No. 22 team began its off week with some work, however, as it took part in a Goodyear tire test at Daytona International Speedway on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to contribute some good data to the Goodyear team of engineers and NASCAR to continue to make the racing at Daytona as exciting as possible for our fans,” Gordon said.
“I think you’ve seen as the track there continues to age, handling has become more and more important every time we unload, so I’m optimistic that we’ll continue to see that trend.”
Where are they now? – Mike Skinner
Where are they now? - Recapping those featured so far