Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series Race Report – Auto Club Speedway

Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series Race Report
Track: Auto Club Speedway
Race: Auto Club 400
Date: March 1, 2020
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No. 2 America’s Tire Ford Mustang – Brad Keselowski
Start: 15th
Stage 1: 6th
Stage 2: 4th
Finish: 5th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 200/200
Laps Led: 6
Point Standings (behind first): 12th (-40)

Notes:

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Brad Keselowski grabbed his first top-five finish of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season Sunday afternoon at Auto Club Speedway. The driver of the America’s Tire Ford Mustang placed fifth, his fourth consecutive top-five finish at Auto Club Speedway. Keselowski jumped seven spots to 12th position in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings.

Keselowski started 15th in the 200-lap, 400-mile race but steadily worked his way through the pack to score a sixth-place finish when Stage 1 concluded on lap 60. He made a stop during the stage caution on lap 63 for four tires and restarted fifth when the race went green on lap 66.

The handling characteristics of the No. 2 Mustang were better on the long run in Stage 2 – the same as in the first segment of the race. Keselowski was able to gain positions during the second half of a run when he had more grip and scored a fourth-place finish when the segment ended on lap 120. He pitted during the stage caution on lap 123 for four tires and restarted seventh when the race went green on lap 127.

Keselowski was running eighth when a cycle of green flag stops began on lap 158. He and crew chief Jeremy Bullins made the decision to stay out a few laps after their competitors pitted. Keselowski cycled into the lead on lap 161 and held the top spot until he pitted under green on lap 166.

The move paid big dividends as the race entered its closing laps because Keselowski had fresher tires than his competitors. The driver of the No. 2 Mustang was up to 10th position by lap 182 and passed Jimmie Johnson for sixth on lap 195. Two laps later he moved into fifth-place when teammate Ryan Blaney made an unscheduled stop just three laps from the finish.

Quotes: “We had a good run today with the America’s Tire Ford. We ran fifth and there were some highlights, like being able to drive through the field there a couple times. Our Mustang had a lot of long run speed. Our team fought hard and scored a lot of points today to dig us out of a hole we had from early in the season. I think we executed well today. I probably could have done a little better on one of those early restarts, but the team did perform well. There were a lot of positives.”

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No. 12 BODYARMOR Ford Mustang – Ryan Blaney
Start: 16th
Stage 1: 2nd
Stage 2: 1st
Finish: 19th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 199/200
Laps Led: 54
Point Standings: 1st (+11)

Notes:

Ryan Blaney’s finish was not indicative of how he and the No. 12 BODYARMOR Ford Mustang team ran in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Blaney led four times for 54 laps and was running second to eventual race winner Alex Bowman when he was forced to pit with three laps to go because of a right-rear tire that was coming apart.

Blaney started 16th in the 200-lap race and was up to fifth by lap 11. He made his first pit stop under green on lap 28 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. After the cycle of stops was complete on lap 36, Blaney was second in the running order and he stayed there until Stage 1 ended on lap 60.

Blaney restarted second when Stage 2 went green on lap 66. He grabbed the lead for the first time on lap 69. After jockeying back and forth for the lead with Jimmie Johnson and William Byron, Blaney took the lead on lap 93 and didn’t look back, winning Stage 2, his first stage win of the 2020 season.

The driver of the BODYARMOR Ford lined up third when Stage 3 went green on lap 127. After falling back as far as sixth, the High Point, NC native rallied back to second after his final scheduled pit stop under green on lap 160.

Blaney had his sights on race leader Bowman as the event drew to a close. With 10 laps to go, Blaney reported a vibration and which eventually forced him to pit road when the right-rear tire began to come apart. He slowed on the backstretch and pitted on lap 197. The frustrating turn of events left him with a 19th-place in the final running order.

One bright spot for Blaney is that he remains the leader in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, holding an 11-point edge over teammate Joey Logano.

Quote: “We led a little bit with our BODYARMOR Ford and ran pretty good. I just corded a right-rear at the end. We lost the lead there at the beginning of the third stage and kind of got swallowed up and the No. 88 (Bowman) got away. It is just the way it goes sometimes.”

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No. 22 Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang – Joey Logano
Start: 7th
Stage 1: 7th
Stage 2: 15th
Finish: 12th
Status: Running
Laps Completed: 200/200
Laps Led: 0
Point Standings (behind first): 2nd (-11)

Notes:

Joey Logano started Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway from the seventh position following a solid qualifying effort on Saturday morning. But after racing towards the front of the field during the first half of the event, Logano had to settle for a 12th-place finish after battling a tight-handling Auto Club of Southern California Ford Mustang.

Logano, the race winner last week in Las Vegas, radioed to crew chief Paul Wolfe at the start of the race that his Ford was slightly loose getting into Turn 1, likely because of the heavy tailwind he received motoring down the front stretch. Wolfe began to adjust the chassis and by the end of the first stage, Logano was running top three lap times to finish seventh when the segment ended on lap 60.

Following additional adjustments to start the second stage, Logano noted that he was happy with the balance of the No. 22 Ford Mustang. However, as the race moved toward the 100-lap mark of the 200-lap event, he radioed that was now fighting a tight-handling condition.

The tight condition would plague Logano and team throughout the rest of the event, a condition that was made worse in traffic around the two-mile oval. At one point during the second half of the event, Logano dropped to the 15th position in the running order but was able to battle back for a 12th place finish at the end of the day.

With the result, Logano and the No. 22 team remain second in the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, 11 markers behind teammate Ryan Blaney.

Quote: “It was almost like two different races for the Auto Club of Southern California Mustang team. I thought we started the race strong and could race inside the top five, but towards the middle of the race it just turned very tight. We tried to take some of our previous adjustments back out, but it didn’t seem to affect it much. The track seemed to tighten up as the race went along.”

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