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.”

Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”