Penske’s resurgence is led by Keselowski, Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski appear to be on their way to NASCAR’s season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup after combining for seven top-10 finishes in the last five races.
This weekend, they compete in Michigan — meaning there might be a bit more at stake for the Penske Racing duo.
“It’s a big race for a lot of us,” said Mike Nelson, Penske’s vice president of operations. “We always like to come up here and represent Dodge well. Roger and all his businesses — we look forward to it any time we come here. We put the pressure on ourselves to perform.”
Owner Roger Penske isn’t expected to be on hand this weekend, but his drivers look primed for more success in a race that takes on a little extra significance for the team. Penske Automotive Group is based in the Detroit area, and Penske played a leading role in the city’s successful bid to host the 2006 Super Bowl.
Keselowski qualified in sixth place for Sunday’s race in his No. 2 car, and Busch was 13th in his the No. 22.
“For us at Penske, we’re one of the big teams, it’s just that we don’t have four teams out there every week,” Busch said. “I feel like we’re doing everything that those top teams are doing, except we only have two cars out there each week instead of four.”
Although Penske runs an esteemed IndyCar operation, his NASCAR branch has produced mixed results. Keselowski went without a top-10 finish in his first nine races this year, and Busch earned all sorts of notoriety with a radio tirade against his race team at Richmond in May.
Soon after that, however, both drivers began improving. Busch won three straight poles in June, part of a five-race stretch in which he finished in the top 11 each time. He capped that stretch with an impressive run at Infineon Raceway, earning his first career road course victory.
Busch is sixth in the points standings with four races left before the Chase, and Keselowski is in good shape as well. He’s 14th in the standings but with two victories, meaning he has the inside track to a wild card spot.
“We’ve been on a bit of a roll here lately,” Nelson said. “We’ve had some good runs. Right now what we’re trying to do is hold onto that and continue to push forward.”
Busch has finished in the top 10 in three of his last five races, and Keselowski has four top-10s in that span despite breaking his left ankle during a test session at Road Atlanta. Just days after that injury, he won at Pocono, and he nearly made it two victories a row Monday at Watkins Glen before settling for second.
“I knew at any time we could get on a hot streak. We had shown some performance, just without the execution,” Keselowski said. “I look at the last few weeks being good execution combined with the speed that we’ve had for probably the last two to three months.”
Penske isn’t expected at Sunday’s race — the team said he had another commitment this weekend — but the owner isn’t the only one with ties to the area. Keselowski, who won the Nationwide Series title last year, is from the Detroit suburb of Rochester Hills.
“I’d like to say that we’re spending a lot of time thinking about the Chase stuff, but to be honest, I’m really not,” he said. “I’m thinking a lot about how we can win in Michigan. When you win, you don’t have to worry about all that other stuff. It takes care of itself. That’s where our thoughts are.”
The way Keselowski is going, he should be a threat. The hard-driving Keselowski has had his share of run-ins with other drivers, such as Carl Edwards, but his impressive performance while driving hurt has earned him some respect.
In fact, these days, the entire Penske team is enjoying a little more acclaim. “We just have made good strides since May,” Busch said. “Just the team communication and everybody being on the same page — as well as Brad feeling more confident in his Cup cars.”