Team Penske trio has mixed fortunes in Brickyard 400

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After Brickyard 400 qualifying on Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski referred to a NASCAR win at Indy as “the last thing left on the Penske bucket list.”

But team owner Roger Penske – whose teams have won 15 Indy 500s and, thanks to Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup title – will have to keep waiting for a Brickyard trophy.

It was a mixed bag for the Captain’s men in yesterday’s main event. Joey Logano finished fifth behind winner Jeff Gordon and the Joe Gibbs Racing trio, but Keselowski (12th) and IndyCar pilot Juan Pablo Montoya (23rd) faltered after starting toward the front end of the grid.

Logano and his team stayed out under the first, competition caution of the day at Lap 20 to take the lead. He eventually pitted from second place under green on Lap 33, revealing the strategy of pitting earlier than his fellow leaders in order to gain track position as the pit cycles played out.

“We didn’t have anything compared to the 24 car [Gordon], so our strategy was to stay out there and just cycle forward every time you can,” Logano said. “The 15 [Clint Bowyer] timed it out perfect. He got a caution [Lap 97] while he was on pit road. We stayed out one time and led a bunch of laps and got some track position that way.

“That was a good call, but unfortunately we weren’t able to hang on to where we were, and from there, it was just trying to keep your track position. If you ever lose it or if you ever make one mistake in this race your day is over.”

As for Keselowski, he ran in the Top 5 early on but dropped back to ninth when he got checked up behind Gordon on a restart at Lap 26.

Eight laps later, he went off-strategy by going in for service, but made contact with Kyle Busch on pit road. Keselowski then fell a lap down, and while he eventually went back on the lead lap via the lucky dog, he didn’t have enough time to fully recover.

“With 60 laps left, we went from 30th to 15th in probably 40 of those,” said Keselowski. “We got up to 12th there at the end and that was just as far as we could get. I was faster than some of the guys in front of me, but we needed more laps.”

Montoya’s day went south quickly as he fell into the lower reaches of the Top 20 on his first stint. Then, on Lap 32, he made contact with Paul Menard that sent Menard into the wall.

It didn’t get much better for the former Indy 500 champion, who finished 23rd.

The run-in with Montoya cost Menard two laps for repairs and relegated him to a 34th-place finish. Even more importantly, the poor result knocked the winless Menard out of the Chase Grid. He’s now eight points behind the 16th-place cutoff held by Austin Dillon.

“We’re running for a spot in the Chase, and some part-time racer left-rears us and puts us in the fence,” Menard’s crew chief Slugger Labbe said to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Then you’re done.”

“…It probably knocked us out of the Chase (for the Sprint Cup), but…We’ve just got to fight back in six more races.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.