Hard work and dedication has paid off for the son of the Buckeye Bullet.
Ryan Blaney, a developmental driver for Team Penske since 2012, will be joining Wood Brothers Racing for the 2015 season. Replacing Trevor Bayne in the iconic No. 21 Ford, Blaney will be running at least 12 events next year. With Bayne heading over to the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, the Wood Brothers were sent searching for a new driver to take the seat in the cockpit of their vehicle.
In addition to racing for the Wood Brothers, the soon to be 21-year-old will be racing for Team Penske in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season, he has run seven races for Penske in NASCAR’s second-tier division – tallying up six top-10s; highlighted by a runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway. Although the team did not announce how many races Blaney will race in the Nationwide Series, they said it could be around the same amount that he is scheduled to run this year.
Team Penske has also created an alliance with the Wood Brothers, whom of which previously had a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.
“Working with an organization that has been so successful at Daytona and the bigger tracks and the success that we have had has been there, but not to the extent that these guys have had,” Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske said. “This is something that we can learn from, but with a third car out there – running the same specifications and equipment that we are with our two cars can only continue to help grow our program in a faster way. With the rule changes that they are looking at for next year – we will have more cars out there to learn quicker. We would love to run three or four cars like some of these teams do, but I think the fact that we run two cars with the group that we have – this is just a good move for us.”
The move enables Blaney to move up the ranks after racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a full-time basis for Brad Keselowski Racing. Currently, he leads the championship standings with an average finish of 7.4 halfway into the 2014 season. Besides
“I don’t think it will be incredibly difficult,” Blaney said on running both schedules next year. “We have a great team with the alliance with the Wood Brothers and Team Penske. I think we have a great chance. I will need a little bit of time just because all three series drive so differently, but hopefully in time – running these races will definitely help that. It is really big for me getting ready for next season.
This weekend at the Michigan International Speedway, Blaney will turn his first laps in the No. 21 Ford. With Bayne racing in the Nationwide Series event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the newest driver to race for the organization will practice and qualify the car. Earlier this year, he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut with Team Penske at Kansas Speedway in the No. 12 car – finishing 27th after running inside of the top 15 throughout the race.
After 19 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, we have gotten past the half-way mark in this exciting 2014 season. Thus far, there have been 11 different winners.
Yeah. 11. How crazy is that?
Well, now we have officially entered the latter half of a season that will entail a new championship format. No one really knows what to expect, yet it will truly be as exciting as possible. We have seen some crazy races this year, and each one has provided controversy in some way, shape or form. With that being said, here are our mid-season report card grades:
Hendrick Motorsports: A/A- The team has been exceptional this season with a pair of wins by Dale Earnhardt Jr., three by Jimmie Johnson and one with Jeff Gordon. However, Kasey Kahne has had his fair share of struggles, which is why they are on the border of receiving an A.
Joe Gibbs Racing: B+/B Gibbs does have a pair of victories in 2014, but they don’t seem to be on track to have the success that they had last year. Although Kyle Busch is eighth in points, he has just eight top-10s. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin has seven. Kenseth is still the highest-ranked driver in the top Toyota organization after finishing second to Johnson in 2013, but qualifying has become a problem for the entire team and has truly put them behind come race day. However, they always rebound rather nicely.
Team Penske: A Penske has rebounded nicely after missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Brad Keselowski last season. Winning two of the past three races, the team’s stock has sky rocketed. Keselowski currently sits third in points, but more importantly – he has led more laps half-way through 2014 than he has in any one season throughout his career (previous high was 735 in 2012). Joey Logano has also been hot this year as he is inside of the top-10 in points with a pair of victories. Like Keselowski, Logano has already lead more laps this year than any other season in his young career.
Roush Fenway Racing: C+ Besides a pair of victories from Carl Edwards, not much has gone right for this team. It is well known by now that they just haven’t adjusted to the new rules package very well, but they are slowly moving into the right direction. The intermediate tracks have plagued all three of their drivers this year, and the race at Michigan was probably the worst you will ever see out of this organization. As time moves forward, judgment day is coming on whether or not Edwards will stay at RFR. Once that is out of the clear, maybe, just maybe – the other two drivers in the camp will have more of a focus on contending for wins than ever before.
Richard Petty Motorsports: C+ RPM has had a roller coaster season. Rumors have swirled around the garage on whether or not Marcos Ambrose will return to the team next year. However, he might not considering he has struggled mightily this year. He has just four top-10s this year and sits 20th in points with an average finish worse than 18th. Meanwhile, with Aric Almirola’s Daytona win, the team does have some positives. Almirola has run strong on the intermediate tracks this year, and could be a contender for a top-10 spot in points.
Richard Childress Racing: B RCR has run well this year, but not well enough. They have been a model for consistency as they are seldom outside of the top-15. Ryan Newman has begun to run better with RCR, but hasn’t been in contention for race wins. Paul Menard has been the organization’s best driver with nine top-10s already this season, and is currently in position to make the Chase as he is 11th in points. Austin Dillon has had an up and down year, but he is still developing at NASCAR’s top level. This team has a great deal of potential after having a quiet, yet steady first half to the year.
Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates: B- Ganassi’s team has made incredibly large strides this year. The addition of Keith Rodden as Jamie McMurray’s crew chief was exactly what this Chevrolet team needed. McMurray is 21st in points, but his results don’t show how strong he has been in 2014. When he hasn’t been involved in an accident or had mechanical issues, there has not been a single race where the No. 1 car has finished worse than 17th. Kyle Larson is on pace to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for this team, but he will need to stay at his current pace after a third-place finish at Loudon. He showed weaknesses over the past few weeks, and he can’t have that as he sits 14th in points, right near Dillon.
Stewart Haas Racing: B+/B If this team wouldn’t have such bad luck, they would easily have an A. Kevin Harvick has been one of, if not the quickest car on a weekly basis. Although he has the speed to contend for wins, Harvick’s results don’t show that, along with his teammates. Kurt Busch currently sits 25th in points with a win. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t finished worse than 18th since Dover – enabling him to slowly work his way back up in points after struggling in his first two-three months with the team. Tony Stewart has been a model of inconsistency. He is 19th in points, but has shown moments of brilliance such as at Pocono in June. The entire team needs to become more consistent, and they have the pieces to do so.
Michael Waltrip Racing: B- MWR is lacking speed this season. Brian Vickers has adjusted nicely as the driver of the No. 55 Toyota, but the team just doesn’t have the speed to contend for wins. Vickers and Clint Bowyer have each run inside of the top-15 on a weekly basis, and they have more than five top-10s each, yet they just haven’t been able to seal the deal. The team isn’t horrific by any means necessary. However, after shrinking down from three to two full-time cars this year, MWR hasn’t done as well as they believed. If they can turn the corner just a drop, both of their vehicles should make the Chase.
Furniture Row Racing: C Martin Truex Jr. has struggled in his first year with this team. They have had some really strong runs, and they are slowly leaning in the right direction. The biggest problem for the No. 78 team has been sealing the deal. Once they can do that, they will have more than just three top-10s in 19 races.
JTG Daugherty Racing: C+ Since the team has an alliance with RCR, their expectations have been raised. A.J. Allmendinger has done well for this team. However, they were on an eight race drought in which they couldn’t finish in side of the top-20. Sitting 25th in points with Ku. Busch, Allmendinger has some work to do. With Watkins Glen coming up, that could be the No. 47 team’s only shot to make the Chase.
HScott Motorsports: C-/D+ Since Harry Scott Jr. bought this team, there have been some growing pains. The short tracks have always been Justin Allgaier’s strong suit, but this year – that is about their only chance to run inside of the top-10. His best track in the Nationwide Series was Chicagoland, and he might have a top-10 finish there if the team can stay on the lead lap – something they have done just five times this season.
Front Row Motorsports: C- As expected, this team has struggled a lot with the new rules package. However, the pole at Daytona for David Gilliland marked the first in the team’s history – showing signs that they aren’t too far behind on the plate tracks. Moreover, the company just needs to finish races considering both drivers are outside of the top-30 in points.
Germain Racing: C Casey Mears has done a good job growing with this team. When they don’t have trouble, the No. 13 car is nearly always inside of the top-25. They are exactly where they were at this point last year, but they have more promise with the RCR alliance just like JTG.
Tommy Baldwin Racing: C- TBR has struggled this year. Reed Sorenson is running his first full season in the Cup Series since 2009, and he is 35th in points. He’s been plagued by mechanical issues all year, and when he hasn’t – the No. 36 car is running outside of the top-30. Meanwhile, Michael Annett is 30th in points. Annett has potential to run inside of the top-25 on a weekly basis, and he might be able to do just that in the second half of the year. However, with a few top-20 finishes, Annett is the only thing that has saved this team from getting a grade in the D range.
Phil Parsons Racing: C/C- Even though the team missed Phoenix, they have done a lot better than anyone would have thought coming into this year. Going from a team that primarily start and parks to running every week is extremely difficult, and they have done a good job at adjusting to the ups and downs of racing all the time. A lot of people took notice to Josh Wise at Bristol when he just refused to go a lap down, and ever since – the team’s popularity has sky rocketed with the Reddit/Dogecoin deal. However, they still need a lot of sponsorship if they want to be better than a team that barely enters the top-30 on a weekly basis.
BK Racing: C-/D+ Cole Whitt has been a leader for this team since he moved over from Swan Racing – finishing inside of the top-30 in nine of the last 11 events. However, Ryan Truex has missed three races, and his best finish this year is 30th. His results have been extremely rough, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel for him as the team looks to regroup with an off weekend. Alex Bowman, another rookie driver for the team, has done slightly better than Truex. He has made every race, and he has been able to run inside of the top-30 every now and then.
Go FAS Racing: D The team has done well at the plate tracks with Terry Labonte. However, everything else has been a struggle. Travis Kvapil is their primary driver, and he has run inside of the top-30 just once in a dozen races this year. They have a few chances to do decent, including Watkins Glen with Boris Said and Talladega in October with Labonte, but everything else depends on sponsorship dollars.
Circle Sport Racing/Hillman Racing: D+ Landon Cassill has done well for the team in the No. 40 car. They have had their struggles, but they have seven finishes inside of the top-30. However, since Kansas – their best finish was 31st at Daytona. The team’s second car, the No. 33, has been switching back and forth with different drivers. It has run a lot worse than the No. 40 car, and it shows.
The journey to the top has been a long one for Brad Keselowski. However, time after time, the Michigan native has defied the odds.
Since he joined Team Penske in 2010, Keselowski has won a Nationwide Series title, a Sprint Cup Series title. Besides the championships, he has won 22 Nationwide Series events along with 11 on the Cup Series side. But ever since that broken ankle he had before Pocono in August of 2011, Keselowski has become more than just your average Sprint Cup Series driver that races for Roger Penske.
Using the Penske name, Keselowski has not only become one of the top drivers in NASCAR’s top-tier division, but his unique personality has created controversy on multiple occasions.
After missing the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, the No. 2 team has a new look. No, it’s not just a new paint scheme. It’s a new level of confidence that has joined the organization after ending 2013 on a high note.
During the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski showed that Team Penske is capable of contending for a title. Keselowski and his teammate, Joey Logano, led all but 31 laps in the 267 lap event. Kentucky marked the third time this season in which he led 95 or more markers in a race – matching the amount he had recorded entering this year. Now, he is determined to go after his second Sprint Cup Series title.
“I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not gonna be happy with that, and I want to win another championship but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here and it is present, and I want to make the most of it. I’m not afraid to communicate that. I think when it comes to goals, when it comes to dreams and visions, you have to share them if you want them to become a reality,” Keselowski said during a post-race press conference on Saturday evening.
With his early season success, Keselowski currently sits fourth in the points standings with a pair of wins. He has all but locked himself inside of the Chase this year, and now is the time where he can prove that he is a force to win the title. As of now, he is on pace to lead more laps than he did in his championship season (735), and he is also on track to have the best statistical season of his career.
“Like I said, I don’t feel like we’re the dominant cars. We were tonight and I feel like we’re good cars with a really good team, but we have to keep pushing because, like I said, the Hendrick cars won three or four of the last five. You know the stat better than I do, but it’s something like that and that’s what it’s gonna take to win the championship. You’re gonna have to get on a streak in those 10 races and that’s where we need to be, so that’s where I want to push,” he said.
Even though they aren’t at the level which the Hendrick Motorsports team has been performing at – Team Penske is awfully close. At the five 1.5-mile tracks 17 races into the year, Penske cars have seven top-10 finishes.
The clouds might have been above the track, but no cloud could ruin a pole run for “Bad Brad.”
Brad Keselowski has won the pole for the FedEx 400 at the Dover International Speedway. Keselowski’s time of 21.892 set the track record at Dover as he was the first car to go on track in the final round of qualifying.
The pole award marks the fifth time that Keselowski will lead the field to the green flag in what will be his 174th career start in NASCAR’s premier division. With the new qualifying format, Keselowski’s average starting position was 6.8 with seven front row starts in 12 races, and the 11th front row start for Team Penske between Joey Logano and he.
"I don't know if it is any different from last year. At this time last year, we were very similar in the standings and in laps led. We just didn't have the finishes other than the one win, but we are qualifying better," Keselowski said.
"I think the cars are built a lot differently than they were last year, and I think Ford has done a great job catching up with the front nose piece that kind of put us behind when the Gen Six car came out. I don't think we were far off before, we just needed those little pieces that were kind of outside of our control."
Kevin Harvick, along with Logano, went out a second time, but was not able to improve on old tires. Harvick will start eighth on Sunday at Dover, and it is the seventh straight weekend where he will start 11th or better.
Kyle Busch set the initial track record of the day in the first round with a time of 21.898 seconds at 164.399 mph, but was not able to duplicate his lap in the second round, coming just short of Keselowski’s time to start on the outside pole.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. barely missed the cut as A.J. Allmendinger knocked him out of the top-12 with a minute remaining in round one. Earnhardt Jr. went back on track along with Marcos Ambrose and Kurt Busch, but none of them were able to advance to the second and final round of qualifying.
After qualifying was completed, Busch said he came up just a little short of the pole as he got loose in between turns three and four.
Brett Moffitt, making his Sprint Cup Series debut for Identity Ventures Racing, will start 18th on Sunday at Dover. Moffitt, 21, has just one prior start in the Nationwide Series and two in the Camping World Truck Series. However, he is a two-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East at Dover, and is replacing Joe Nemechek in the No. 66 Toyota this weekend.
Here are some notables from qualifying:
- Carl Edwards will start 29th after being sixth in first practice.
- Tony Stewart will start 20th in the No. 14 car. Stewart is the reigning winner of this event and has not won a race since.
- Kyle Larson was the highest qualifying rookie in fifth.
- Kurt Busch will start 24th after being 20th in first practice.