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.”

Scott McLaughlin will make IndyCar debut for Team Penske at St. Pete

Scott McLaughlin IndyCar debut
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Two-time defending Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut with Team Penske in the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida.

McLaughlin, 27, drove for Penske in preseason IndyCar testing at Circuit of the Americas, Sebring International Raceway (in a rookie evaluation) and Texas Motor Speedway, and he was announced Feb. 5 as making his debut with the team at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic delayed the start of the season.

Travel restrictions also made it difficult for the New Zealand native to leave Australia, where he leads the points for DJR Team Penske in the Virgin Australia Supercars series with three races remaining. He set a Supercars record last season with 18 victories.

The Supercars season will conclude Oct. 18 with the prestigious 24 Hours of Bathurst. McLaughlin then will head directly to the States to drive the No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet at St. Pete as a teammate of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” McLaughlin, who also has won at Barber and Indianapolis while unofficially finishing first in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, said in a release. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my IndyCar debut.”

McLaughlin, whose wife, Karly, is from New York, said he has discussed racing in America with car owner Roger Penske since he was hired by the team for the 2017 season.

“I’ve always said I’d love to have a crack at something else,” McLaughlin told reporters in February during the preseason test at Austin, Texas. “My goal was always to win the championship in Bathurst and Australia. I ticked those boxes, and then opportunities arise over time. The conversation between me and Roger was pretty short. ‘Would you be interested in IndyCar?’ I’d literally drive a wheelbarrow with a Team Penske sticker on it. I’d race anything that comes with the opportunity.

“I’ve always intended I’d love to get America one day potentially if I’ve done my goals in Australia. I’ve always said whether it’s now or 30 years down the track, I’d love to finish up (in America). I’ve promised Karly that we would come back here eventually. She’s not pushing me by any means, but I’ve always had a passion for American motorsport and certainly would love the opportunity.”

McLaughlin also has indicated a desire to try racing in NASCAR for Team Penske. He discussed his comfort with stock cars during a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast (click on the link below to hear it).

Here’s the release from Team Penske:

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (September 17, 2020) – Team Penske announced today that Scott McLaughlin, the current Virgin Australia Supercars Championship points leader, is scheduled to make his long-awaited NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut in the series’ 2020 season finale on the Streets of St. Petersburg on Sunday, October 25.

The two-time and defending Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP) was set to compete in his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race earlier this year on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course before the COVID-19 global pandemic forced several delays and postponements on racing schedules, along with international travel restrictions. Before the pandemic shutdown, McLaughlin participated in the INDYCAR SERIES preseason open test at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, where he ran consistently well and posted the third-fastest time of the test session. The 27-year-old native of New Zealand also competed in separate tests at the Sebring International Raceway road course and the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval.

“This is something I haven’t stopped thinking about, but I wanted to ensure my focus was on winning our third-straight Supercars championship for DJR Team Penske and all our partners in Australia,” said McLaughlin. “We are still laser-focused on that and have three more rounds to get it done, but I’m equally as excited to finally get the chance and make my INDYCAR debut. I’ve been doing everything I can to keep up with the series this year, from watching as many races as I can on TV to even talking to the drivers and some of the engineers back at the Team Penske shop. I never knew if I would be able to get behind the wheel of one of these cars this year due to all the COVID-19 restrictions, but I wanted to be ready if it became an opportunity.”

McLaughlin currently leads the Supercars point standings with just three rounds of competition remaining on the 2020 schedule. McLaughlin has produced a series-best 10 wins and 10 poles and holds a 143-point lead over Jamie Whincup entering this weekend’s race at The Bend. Over the course of his Supercars career, McLaughlin has won an impressive 53 races and 71 poles, while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019 and winning the driver’s title in each of the last two seasons. He also earned his first win in the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in 2019 with co-driver Alex Premat. Though he is in just his fourth season competing for Team Penske, McLaughlin already ranks third on the organization’s all-time wins list, trailing only Brad Keselowski and Mark Donohue.

Earlier this year, McLaughlin made his “virtual” INDYCAR debut, competing in the series’ iRacing Challenge and winning two races among the full field of current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers that were competing against each other while traditional racing was put on hold.

“Our plan has always been for Scott to run a race in the INDYCAR SERIES this season, but we never wanted to take the focus away from the main goal, which is winning another Supercars Championship,” said Team Penske President Tim Cindric. “COVID-19 certainly altered those plans early on, but with the way the schedules have lined up at the end of this season, St. Pete became an available option and we remain committed to getting him some INDYCAR seat time. We know Scott is ready for this challenge and this should add even more excitement to the 2020 season finale in St. Petersburg.”

McLaughlin will pilot the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Dallara/Chevrolet at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which was postponed from its original date in March and will now take place on Sunday, October 25. The race on the 1.8-mile street circuit will be seen live at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, with radio coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network and SIRIUS XM.