With teammate Brad Keselowski’s struggles, Joey Logano steps up to keep Team Penske in the game at Pocono

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Brad Keselowski’s hopes of a weekend sweep, adding a win in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono to Saturday night’s victory in the Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway, came up way short.

Keselowski finished a disappointing 23rd in the GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono.

But teammate Joey Logano carried the torch for Team Penske and emerged with a solid third-place finish, helping to lessen the sting of Keselowski’s mediocre showing.

Logano tied Kurt Busch for second-most laps led (30 each), but didn’t quite have the car to catch Dale Earnhardt Jr. and runner-up Kevin Harvick in the closing laps of Sunday’s race.

Still, a third-place finish was quite good in a race that was marked with numerous strategies and gameplans that seemed to constantly change as circumstances changed.

First, teams were worried that rain would impact the event, so there were early-race strategies that eventually morphed into different strategies when the rain near-miraculously just disappeared before it got to the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Pocono.

Strategies changed as often as a model changes clothes at a fashion show.

“We had to work our way back up through the field,” Logano said of the hard work he had to do on at least a couple of restarts in Sunday’s race. “And that last restart, my plan was to push Kevin down into one and hopefully those two (Harvick and Earnhardt) would be door to door and fight for the race track and the seas would part for me.

“But Dale just went quite a bit earlier than I thought he would and I didn’t have the full momentum on Kevin and just was almost sleeping a little bit there, so I’m kind of bummed out a little bit about that.

“But overall I felt our Shell Pennzoil Ford was good. I felt it was about a third place car. I felt like the 88 (Earnhardt) and the 24 (Jeff Gordon) were probably the two best and I felt Kevin and I were pretty close to being about the same there.

“But overall a decent day. The last few weeks we finished where we deserved, not having the issues that we have had in the previous four or five weeks before that. So overall we’re gaining momentum.”

The Penske camp has been the shining light of the Ford camp this season, particularly against the Chevrolets of Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports, as well as the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We’re in the hunt,” Logano said of Team Penske’s Fords. “I feel like our cars are definitely where they need to be. I feel like when we come to a race track like this where we’re able to shift, I think our motors go quite a bit better.

“Our motors run really well up at the top end, so when you get them singing, like we have here, when you down shift to third gear, our corner exits are a little bit better than what we have maybe at Indy, when we had a lower RPM coming off the corner.

“So we need to work on things like bottom end power, to become better, and then, obviously, the constant stuff that we always work on with aero and chassis and suspension and the typical stuff that everyone else is always working on.

“But I feel like that’s probably our weakest point right now is some bottom end power, our top end power is right where it needs to be, so I’ll keep looking forward on that, but that’s probably the biggest thing right there.”

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.