CRANDALL: Shock waves, surprises and success along the Penske Way

Image by Kinrade/LAT

CRANDALL: Shock waves, surprises and success along the Penske Way

Insights & Analysis

CRANDALL: Shock waves, surprises and success along the Penske Way

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On Monday morning, Roger Penske’s purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NTT IndyCar series and IMS Productions became complete. By Monday evening, Penske had shaken up and realigned all three of his NASCAR Cup Series teams.

All of those moves initially triggered shock waves; yet in the end, none were at all surprising. Penske, 82, is a savvy entrepreneur who has been rewarded richly with success in most venues that he has entered.

Never one to overlook a small detail or shrug off a tough decision. Image by LePage/LAT

Penske knows what he is doing and when to do it, which is the easy answer to those who first asked ‘why?’ regarding the crew chief – and subsequent road and pit crew – changes of his three Cup Series contenders.

It was not as if Team Penske struggled in 2019 or had been floundering in recent years. Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney all won races last season in addition to once again qualifying for the post season. They wound up fifth (Logano), seventh (Blaney), and eighth (Keselowski) in the overall standings, all three building strong relationships with their crew chiefs.

Keselowski and Paul Wolfe had been one of the most successful and longest-running pairings in the Cup Series, with 29 wins in 317 races plus the 2012 championship. Logano won 21 times with Todd Gordon while capturing the 2018 title. Blaney and Jeremy Bullins began their Cup partnership at Wood Brothers Racing and now have three wins together.

All three pairings have been shuffled for 2020.

“As we do after the completion of each season, we evaluated what we can do to better achieve our goals, and we felt it was time to make these changes to better position us to reach our potential,” said Penske. “We are fortunate that we have three very strong leaders in Paul, Todd, and Jeremy, who work with experienced and talented crews. Pairing each of these winning teams with different drivers and cars should provide new energy and a fresh approach for the 2020 season.”

The No. 12 team seemed in need of a spark, and Blaney gets it in 2020 in the form of new crew chief Todd Gordon. Image by Kinrade/LAT

If anything, an argument could have centered on Blaney’s No. 12 Ford Mustang needing a bit of a spark. Although they have been in the mix, Blaney and Bullins have seemed to be a step behind their teammates since moving in-house in 2018. The duo’s two wins in two years pale in comparison to Keselowski’s six and Logano’s five during that same timespan.

It would have been a safe bet to say all three would have been contenders again this year. But championship-winning, Indianapolis 500-dominating, Hall of Fame-resident (of multiple places) Penske isn’t in the racing business just to be good when his organization is capable of being great.

Contentment with the status quo is not Penske’s style. Mix in the disappointment of the somewhat quick eliminations of Keselowski and Logano in the playoffs, and a shakeup was never out of the realm of possibility.

Being great is a necessity nowadays in the Cup Series to compete with a dominant manufacturer in Toyota and an organization like Joe Gibbs Racing which won just about everything last year.

Plus, there is strong competition from within the Ford camp, with the ever-present Kevin Harvick and Stewart-Haas Racing.

Penske is meticulous in everything he does; no detail is too small, and no stone goes unturned. While some might not take it seriously, the ‘Penske Way’ does exist and is a way of life for all those associated with him, down to the starched white button-up shirts and black slacks.

Just as Penske made a list of things that could be improved at Indianapolis upon the heralded race track’s acquisition, he undoubtedly weighed all options and scenarios in changing around his NASCAR Cup Series teams. None of the accolades bestowed upon Penske have been by chance, but all have been earned through a commitment to excellence and lack of fear in making necessary decisions – especially the tough ones that few others see coming, yet seem perfectly understandable in the end.

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