Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series Race Report – Las Vegas

Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series Race Report
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Race: Pennzoil 400
Date: February 23, 2020

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No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang – Brad Keselowski
Start: 8th
Stage 1: 17th
Stage 2: 13th
Finish: 7th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 267/267
Laps Led: 0
Point Standings (behind first): 19th (-47)

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Notes:

Brad Keselowski scored a seventh-place finish in the Pennzoil 400 Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Keselowski claimed his first top-10 finish of the 2020 season and his 10th in 14 Cup races at Las Vegas. The driver of the Discount Tire Ford Mustang gained 11 positions in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings to move up to 19th.

Rain washed out Cup qualifying on Saturday Las Vegas, which gave Keselowski the eighth starting position for the 267-lap, 400-mile event. Stage 1 for Keselowski had a consistent theme: a loose handling No. 2 Mustang. He was too loose to run the preferred line up against the outside wall early in the race. Keselowski pitted for four tires and adjustments during the competition caution on lap 27 and restarted sixth on lap 30. Initially the adjustments seemed to work but by lap 54 the loose condition returned, and he was struggling to turn on corner entry. He slipped back through the field and was credited with a 17th-place finish when the stage ended on lap 80. Keselowski pitted on lap 83 during the stage caution for four tires, track bar and air pressure adjustments and restarted 17th when the race went green on lap 87.

During the first run of Stage 2, Keselowski said the balance on the Discount Tire Mustang improving but still building loose and that he was struggling to get the back of the car to stick. He was running 15th when scheduled green flag pit stops began on lap 118 and pitted under green for four tires and a wedge adjustment on lap 122. The No. 2 Mustang initially took off strong after the stops but began to free back up after a handful of laps. Keselowski said the balance was improving but he was still lifting in both ends of the track. He finished 13th when Stage 2 concluded on lap 160. Crew chief Jeremy Bullins called for four tires, wedge and air pressure adjustments during a round of pit stops during the stage caution on lap 163 and Keselowski restarted 13th when the green flag waved on lap 166.

The final segment began with cautions on lap 169 and 177. Keselowski pitted for four tires under yellow on lap 178 and restarted 18th on lap 181. He picked up a handful of positions on the chaotic restart climbed back inside the top-10 on lap 193 thanks to the improved balance on the Discount Tire Ford Mustang. He was up to sixth position when a cycle of green flag stops began on lap 210. Bullins called his driver to pit road on lap 218 for a four-tire stop and two laps later Chase Elliott spun in Turn 1. The timing of the caution dropped Keselowski a lap down, but he took the wave around back to the lead lap and restarted 10th on lap 226.

Keselowski again showed speed early in the run, moving up to fifth position by lap 230. He was sixth when Ross Chastain spun on lap 263 bringing out the eighth caution on lap 263. Bullins and Keselowski decided to pit for right-side tires for the final three-lap dash to the checkered flag. He restarted eight on lap 265 and gained one position before a four-car accident on the final lap forced the race to end under yellow.

Quotes: “We had a decent run today with the Discount Tire Ford. There were times where I felt like we were the best car and then there were times where I felt like we struggled. We just didn’t quite have the long run speed all race long but we were good in the middle of the runs. I’m confident we were close to being a winning car today. I just wish I could re-run the weekend a little bit and work through a few things, but certainly learned a lot and very confident we can win races.”

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No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang – Ryan Blaney
Start: 7th
Stage 1: 4th
Stage 2: 2nd
Finish: 11th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 267/267
Laps Led: 19
Point Standings (Behind First): 1st (+3)

Notes:

The official box score following the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will list Ryan Blaney with an 11th-place finish but that doesn’t capture the story of how well the young driver performed on Sunday afternoon. The driver of the Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang was leading on lap 262 of the 267-lap race when the eighth caution came out. Blaney pitted during the caution for four tires but a mix of pit strategies among the leaders shuffled him back to 11th for the three-lap dash to the finish but received damage making his way back through the field, forcing the young driver to settle for an 11th-place finish. The good news is that Blaney takes over the lead in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings by three points over teammate Joey Logano.

Blaney started seventh after qualifying was rained out on Saturday and the field was set per the NASCAR rulebook. He would quickly make his way into the top-five, but soon reported to crew chief Todd Gordon the Menards/Pennzoil Ford was too loose. A competition caution on lap 25 gave Blaney the chance to pit on lap 27 for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustment. He restarted fifth when racing resumed on lap 30.
Shortly after going back green, Blaney reported to crew chief Todd Gordon that the Menards Ford was on the splitter at the beginning of the run and lacked rear security as run progressed. He passed teammate Logano for fourth on lap 50 and remain there until the stage end on lap 80. Blaney pitted during the stage caution and the Menards team made significant changes including track bar and air pressure. He restarted sixth when the race went green to begin Stage 2 on lap 87.

By lap 120 Blaney was up to third as the No. 12 Menards Ford’s handling improved greatly from his first run of the day. He pitted on lap 123 for four tires, fuel and an additional air pressure adjustment. Excellent work by the No. 12 crew propelled Blaney to third during the pit cycle and then a few laps later he passed Martin Truex Jr. for second. Stage 2 would finish under caution with Blaney coming home second just behind Chase Elliott. When Blaney pitted during the stage break, Gordon continued to make track bar and air pressure adjustments along with a piece of tape on the nose to aid Blaney’s run to the finish. Great pit work by the Menards crew gave their driver the lead on lap 163.

When the race went green on lap 166, Blaney diced for the lead with Logano, Elliott and Kevin Harvick for next 51 laps. Elliott slipped by the No. 12 Mustang on lap 205 when Blaney said his Menards/Pennzoil Ford was losing front turn. He made a scheduled green flag pit stops on lap 218 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Four laps later the seventh caution of the race came out for an accident involving Elliott, giving Blaney the free pass back to the lead lap. Gordon called his driver to pit road on lap 224 for four tires. Blaney restarted third and made his charge to the front, passing Harvick for second and finding a way around Logano for the lead on lap 255.

He was steadily pulling away when the eighth caution came out on lap 263 for a spin by Ross Chastain. Gordon made the call to pit for four tires and different pit strategies among the leaders shuffled Blaney back to 11th for the final restart of the race on lap 265. Armed with fresher tires, Blaney immediately went to work moving through the field but unfortunately received damage in the process.

Quote: “It was just a tough situation for our Menards/Pennzoil team. I thought we had it once we were in clean air. The caution came out and we pitted; some guys didn’t, some guys took two tires and we just ended up getting torn up trying to drive back though the field. It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out. That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a great Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang. We were so good on long runs and that’s something to hold our heads up high about. It just stinks about the finish.”

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No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang – Joey Logano
Start: 5th
Stage 1: 5th
Stage 2: 5th
Finish: 1st – 24th career NASCAR Cup Series Victory
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 267/267
Laps Led: 54
Point Standings (Behind First): 2nd (-3)

Notes:

Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe rolled the dice and hit the jackpot, winning the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon in the No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang. Logano won for the second time in 14 races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and claimed his first victory of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. The driver of the Pennzoil Ford Mustang started fifth and ran inside the top-five for most of the afternoon, leading five times for 54 laps. The eighth caution with five laps to go provided an opportunity for the Pennzoil team to remain on the track and cycle to the lead. Logano survived the final restart, holding off cars with fresher tires, and was leading Matt DiBenedetto when a caution waved on the final lap, ending the race and giving Logano his 24th career victory and second consecutive win in the Pennzoil 400.

Logano started third in the No. 22 Pennzoil Ford Mustang, powering to second position before the field reached Turn 3 and was slowed by the first yellow flag. On the restart, Logano grabbed the lead powered to the lead as the field completed the fifth lap of the race. He relinquished the lead on lap 12 and reported that the Pennzoil Mustang was loose during the opening run. He dropped to the third position before the competition caution on lap 25. The Pennzoil crew made track bar and air pressure adjustments on the stop, sending Logano back out in the fourth position.

He moved back to third position before losing rear grip in the No. 22 Pennzoil Mustang. Logano was passed by teammate Ryan Blaney before falling in line in fifth position. The No. 22 Ford Mustang remained loose through the entire second run of the race with Logano finishing fifth in Stage 1. He pitted during the stage caution on lap 83 for air pressure and wedge adjustments, also adding tape to the nose of the Pennzoil Ford. Logano restarted fourth on lap 87 and ran there during the opening laps of Stage 2.

As the Logano began closing in on the third pit stop of the race, he was running in fifth position behind teammate Ryan Blaney and still searching for rear grip around the 1.5-mile Nevada speedway. Wolfe made the call to adjust the handling on the Pennzoil Mustang with air pressure. Logano pitted on lap 123 for four tires plus fuel and air pressure changes. Late in the run Logano reported that the Pennzoil Mustang had improved, with the Mustang only building slightly loose towards the end of the run. A caution with two laps remaining in the second stage locked Logano into a second fifth-place stage result of the afternoon. The team elected to make additional air pressure adjustments during the stage caution on lap 163.

Logano restarted third when Stage 3 began on lap 166, pushing Blaney to the race lead on lap 173 then battling to take the lead down the backstretch. A quick caution on lap 177 setup another restart with Logano getting a push to the lead from Ford Performance teammate Kevin Harvick and setup an opportunity for teams to invoke alternate strategies. The No. 22 Pennzoil team elected not to pit, opting to not surrender track position with only five green flag laps on the Goodyear Racing Eagles.

On the ensuing restart, Logano got shuffled to the middle lane, dropping to the sixth position and being forced to go on the offensive to regain lost track position. He rallied back to the third position in three laps, setting his sights on teammate Ryan Blaney and race leader Kevin Harvick. Logano slipped to the fourth position, reporting that the handling had progressed to the loose side again. Logano passed Harvick for third on lap 212 at the start of a cycle of green flag pit stops. Logano pitted on lap 216 for four tires and an air pressure adjustment.

As the pit cycle continued, Logano found himself side-by-side with Chase Elliott just before Elliott cut a tire entering Turn 1. Logano was trapped a lap down as other cars had remained on the track. He would take the wave around and be the third car in line for the restart on lap 226. On the drop of the flag, Logano powered the Pennzoil Ford to the lead off Turn 2, holding off Kevin Harvick.

The next challenge for Logano was facing a late charge from Blaney, who had the advantage of fresher tires. With 12 laps remaining, Blaney took the lead from Logano at the entrance to Turn 1 on lap 255 and was pulling away when the eighth caution slowed the pace on lap 263. Several lead lap cars pitted but half the others, including Logano, remaining on the track.
The decision to remain on the track put Logano in position to win the race and the driver took full advantage. Logano pulled away at the drop of the green flag and was leading when a four-car accident caused the ninth and final caution to wave on the final lap, ending the race and sealing the win for Logano.

Quote: “Winning the Pennzoil 400 with our Pennzoil Ford is so huge. It means a lot to be able to do it two years in a row winning this race. I’m proud of the effort everybody here behind me did today. They prepared a great Ford Mustang and executed the race perfectly and that’s what we wanted. We fought hard and tried to keep every spot we possibly could and then ultimately, oh man, being able to pull it into Victory Lane here.”

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