Team Penske comes up just a little short at Phoenix

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After qualifying on the front row, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had the pace to stay toward the top of the leaderboard today at Phoenix International Raceway.

But with wins now virtually ensuring your place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, near-misses are not good enough. Keselowski and Logano both indicated as much after finishing third and fourth respectively behind winner Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“It feels to good to run up front and be competitive, but in this system, wins are the only thing that count,” Keselowski said. “Last year, you’d say seconds and thirds are great but this year, they’re not. They’re just so-so.

“We were close. I could see it the whole race. Some of our long-run stuff was good as anybody, and the short-run stuff was just OK. It was a good run either way, something to be proud of and hang our hat on. We just know we have to be a little bit better and go from there.”

Keselowski was able to achieve the Top-3 result despite not having his regular crew chief, Paul Wolfe, present. Wolfe flew home during the weekend to be with his wife as they welcomed their first child, Caden Paul.

Yesterday, Keselowski admitted that he was “concerned” about not having Wolfe around for today’s main event. But today, he praised Greg Erwin and Brian Wilson for doing well with filling in for Wolfe.

“They did a great job,” he said. “We still had two more spots to go but all things considered, they did really well and I’m really proud of their effort.”

As for Logano, he was able to push Harvick past Earnhardt for the lead on multiple restarts during the last 35 laps. But he wasn’t able to latch on to Harvick’s back bumper.

“With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you in the Chase,” Logano told Fox Sports in post-race. “I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push [Harvick] along. I wasn’t sure I had enough to go three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart [with nine laps to go], I was like, ‘You know what? Go for it. What have you got to lose?’

“Third place doesn’t mean nothing these days. I shoved our Shell-Pennzoil Ford into a hole there and it just didn’t work out and that’s how we lost [second]. I probably wouldn’t have finished third if I didn’t do it, but you’ve got nothing to lose.”

Logano was still complementary of his team’s effort on the weekend. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but marvel over Harvick, who led 224 of 312 laps en route to his third Phoenix triumph in his last four races there.

“On the back of his car, it says ‘Freaky Fast!’ And…they weren’t lying,” Logano said in reference to a slogan belonging to Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Harvick’s main backer on the No. 4 Chevy for this race.

“We’ll just have to go back and figure out what he’s doing [at Phoenix]…I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit, but didn’t have enough to beat him.”

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.