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.”

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.