E.A. Sports Today

Penske’s power players

Team Penske has it figured out at Talladega, looking for third straight win here and sixth in seven races

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Imagine the conversation in the team meeting at Penske headquarters this week in the run-up to another trip to Talladega Superspeedway. It was probably one of the most comfortable confabs they have all year.

For all the drama that comes with a race at Talladega, the track has been very good to Team Penske (and the Fords) in recent years. Penske drivers have won five of the last six races here – six of the last eight — and the Fords will be looking to make it seven in a row when the 1000Bulbs.com 500 takes the green flag Sunday.

“We talk a lot about it,” Ryan Blaney said Wednesday. “We don’t really talk about the previous success, we just talk about game plans. You try to plan as much as you can between our three cars and the 21 car (Paul Menard) and even other Fords, but between our team we talk a good bit just trying to make sure you’re on the same page.

“It usually never goes the way you plan it, just the unpredictability of the race track, but, yeah, we talk about it all the time.”

Whatever their plan is, it’s working pretty well. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have each won three times in this Penske Talladega Power Play. Logano won the spring race here, as well as the 2015 and 2016 playoff races. Keselowski, the defending race champion, won in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2016; he also got his first career Cup win here in 2009.

“It has been good to us,” Keselowski said. “We have good cars. Are we the fastest cars; probably not. Are we Top 10, sometimes Top 5, cars? Absolutely. I think we’ve been fortunate without a doubt and we’ve found ways to win and be resourceful.”

With that kind of record behind him, it gives the 24-year-old Blaney “a lot of confidence” going forward.

“We obviously don’t win that many just from luck,” he said. “I think Brad and Joey are great speedway racers. It’s being a good speedway racer and having fast cars and things like that. I think we do a great job. Between Penske and Roush-Yates motors, I think they do a really, really amazing job of getting everything right. That’s a true testament that we don’t just show up at these speedway races. You have to take them really serious.”

One thing Blaney is serious about is moving on in the playoffs. He’s currently eighth in the standings, 10 points above the cutoff into the Round of 8. Along with his win at the Charlotte Roval that advanced him into this Round of 12, he has seven top-5s, 14 top-10s and two poles.

He has two top-10s in eight career Cup starts at Talladega, including a fourth in his second series start here.

“The playoffs have been intense, really intense,” he said. “Obviously it’s been fun to be a part of it. It’s hard racing all the time. You’re not going to let anybody go and don’t expect to get waved by. It ramps up race to race, round to round, as it gets closer to these cutoff races. This race this weekend is a big shot for some guys who are below the cut line to have big days. We need to have a big day.”

PIT NOTES: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. interrupted the Penske six-race run (Spring 2017), but he did give Ford another win in the streak, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Spring 2015) was the other winner in the eight-race stretch … Blaney’s sister Erin is a student at the University of Alabama. Usually during Talladega week he drives down a day early to see her, but he won’t be doing that this week. She’ll be here Sunday. … He’s been known to attend a Tide football game and supports them because Erin goes there, but make no mistake, if Alabama plays the home state team in the championship game he’s pulling for – wait for it – Ohio State … For all the success Team Penske has had in recent Talladega races, the Stewart-Haas Racing Team is on the other end of the scale. Since the team’s inception in 2009 it has won 49 races, 42 poles and a pair of Cup championships — but is oh-for at Talladega. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer have won a combined three times, but all while driving for Richard Childress. Kurt Busch, who finished second to Logano in the spring race, is 0-for-25.

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