By: Lee Spencer, NASCAR Senior Writer
Over the last 50 years of racing, Roger Penske has seen his share of teammate squabbles.
Team Penske has endured driver differences within its diverse open-wheel lineups. On the NASCAR side, the chemistry hasn’t always been ideal either.
There was no love lost between Rusty Wallace and Jeremy Mayfield or Wallace and Ryan Newman or Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. But the latest duo of Keselowski and Joey Logano enjoys a great relationship on and off the track.
"I assure everybody in this room, I had absolute confidence in both of these guys, because we are a team"Keselowski’s input was key in recruiting Logano, and his lobbying paid off.
Team Penske's Walt Czarnecki on Brad Keselowski/Joey Logano
With the company’s best combination of drivers to date, there’s no way Team Penske would allow team orders to come between the two perennial Chase contenders.
Letting the drivers race at Las Vegas
Certainly, the organization stayed true to form at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday. Both drivers had cars capable of winning. And when Keselowski passed Logano for second with eight circuits remaining on the way to victory in the Kobalt 400, the move was contested but made cleanly.
“We don't have team orders,” Walt Czarnecki, vice chairman of Penske Corporation, said after Sunday’s race. “It's really kind of ironic, because this morning Joey and I were talking about team orders. Somehow the topic came up.
“Sure enough, later in the day we were in a situation where both guys were racing each other. But I assure everybody in this room, I had absolute confidence in both of these guys, because we are a team. It’s a Team Penske win.”
"He put up a heck of a fight"
Certainly, Logano, who finished second, had a faster car earlier in the race — he led 75 of the first 223 laps. Yet in the final stage, Keselowski had a better car on the long run.
“We were closing in on our teammate,” Keselowski said. “Took a long time to get by Joey. He put up a heck of a fight.
“If anyone wants to say that your teammates lay over and give it to you, that's not how we are at Team Penske. We race each other hard but clean. That was something to see and be a part of.”
For Keselowski, who suffered through an uncharacteristic 33-race drought between his last trip to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway and Sunday’s Celebration at Las Vegas, it hasn’t always been easy witnessing Logano’s tremendous success of late. Last year the No. 22 car kicked off the season with a Daytona 500 win then added five wins and six poles to his resume.
Ending the losing streak
Logano doesn’t believe Keselowski’s losing streak affected his resolve.
“Brad's a confident guy,” Logano said. “I don't know if you guys met him before. It's hard for him to lose confidence. We won a lot of races last year. I don't think it really took a toll on him. He was up there racing with us the whole time. Look at the way we finished in points, we were fifth and sixth in points or sixth and seventh. We weren't good enough to win, so I don't remember. I try to forget that part. We were really similar the whole year, but we were able to squeak out a few more wins.
“This is obviously a big weight off his shoulders, to be able to get that win…it’s almost been a year. He's been knocking on the door quite a few times with a fast car. Last year wasn't because they didn't have fast cars or weren't working well together. They were doing everything right. It's just circumstances have to go perfectly a lot of times to win these things.”
Keselowski accepted responsibility for last year’s performance, when he posted just one win and finished seventh in the point standings after finishing fifth and scoring six victories in 2014. But the 2012 Sprint Cup champ doesn’t wish to dwell on the negative. Certainly, the No. 2 crew’s 2015 performance was consistent, with an 11.1 average finish, a qualifying average of 10th and finished on the lead lap in all but one race.
Who is the #1 driver at Team Penske?
Still, after yet another breakout year for Logano, pundits questioned just who is the alpha driver at Team Penske? If Keselowski’s feeling threatened by his younger teammate, he showed no signs of backing down on Sunday.
“I think you always hope that teammates elevate your game,” Keselowski told Motorsport.com. “I don’t think I would use the word pressure, but there’s something to be learned from it.
“Of course, he’s successful. So it’s good. It’s always a help to expand new ideas that I didn’t have on my own.”
And it’s very possible that either Keselowski or Logano could push the other to the 2016 title.
Penske allows drivers to race it out in Vegas: “We don't have team orders"