Penske, Ganassi NASCAR programs rise to fore in Phoenix

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The Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR teams had themselves quite a solid weekend in this weekend’s The Profit on CNBC 500.

Both teams had past experience in knockout-style qualifying with their IndyCar programs. And while NASCAR’s first crack at it wasn’t going to be identical, there were enough similar elements for them to know when to make their runs and set times.

Penske nailed it doubly so, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano locking out the front row. For good measure, Keselowski added the pole for Saturday’s Nationwide race as well.

“We had a really fast car, and there is some pride to be taken in being the first one to win a Sprint Cup pole in this format,” Keselowski said after Cup qualifying. “I am sure it will undergo a few adjustments along the way, but it is very rewarding and a testament to my team and how fast of a car they gave me.”

In some respects, their finishing third and fourth was a disappointment. But for Keselowski, it’s his second third-place finish in as many races to open the season, and for Logano, it was his best finish on the reconfigured Phoenix track (finished third in fall 2010 on the old configuration).

Logano went for it on several restarts, with good pushes of Harvick, but couldn’t get any closer.

As for Ganassi’s squad, much was made of the addition of new crew chief Keith Rodden to Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, which was a consistent top-five to top-10 performer all weekend.

Rodden, an ex-Hendrick Motorsports engineer, joined up at the start of the year and with Phoenix less of a lottery than the restrictor-plate race at Daytona, the CGR cars were well-prepared for the Phoenix mile. McMurray qualified third and Kyle Larson seventh, so they also put both cars in the final round of knockout qualifying.

McMurray enjoyed a consistent drive to 10th in the race, while Larson took the necessary bounce back step after his rough Daytona 500 and finished best of the eight rookies in 20th.

“This was a really good day for our Cessna team,” McMurray said. “I felt coming here to Phoenix would be the first real test of the season for where we might be as a team. We were fast all weekend and turned that into a strong finish. I am really proud of all the guys on this team and the effort that they put forth this weekend.”

Added Larson, “Our Clorox Chevy showed good speed today, and my guys did a great job on pit road. We got caught a lap down early in the race on one of the long green flag runs. We battled to get position back on the lead lap, but couldn’t seem to catch a break. Finally with just a handful of laps to go we got the lucky dog, but we just didn’t have enough time to make more a of a charge to the front.”

Malcolm Stewart sidelined from Supercross by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.