Team Penske has early Chase edge, but Hendrick camp can strike at Dover


So far, the expected clash of the titans between Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has gone the way of The Captain’s Men.

Yesterday at New Hampshire, Joey Logano joined Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round by earning his fourth win of 2014.

Keselowski also had a solid run too, rallying to finish seventh after a mid-race spin on a day where he and his crew could basically do whatever they wished thanks to their Chase-opening win at Chicagoland.

It’s been a resounding opening statement from both the 2 team of Keselowski and the 22 team of Logano, which are both firing on all cylinders at the right time.

“I’d like to say the 35-inch, 35-ounce bat, they’re swinging it hard,” said Penske Racing vice chairman Walter Czarnecki about his two squads. “We’re trying to give them the resources and they’re doing with it. We’re gratified with where we are.”

From Logano’s perspective, the win on his home track yesterday only bolsters an outfit that was already feeling good heading into the post-season.

“Personally, I consider [New Hampshire] my worst racetrack – terrible to say because it’s my home race track – but I’ve always struggled when I come here,” he said. “To be able to win at your worst racetrack, that makes you feel like you can win anywhere. It’s special to be able to do that.

“The confidence is high at the 22 team right now. All of Team Penske, we all feel like we’ve got some championships to win this year – not only on the Cup side, but the Nationwide side also, and with IndyCar. We’re just trying to catch up to them.”

Meanwhile, the Hendrick camp’s top effort in Loudon was a fifth-place run from Jimmie Johnson. But while Penske has come out strong, HMS has no reason to push the panic button.

They likely would have had three of their drivers in the Top-10 yesterday if not for Jeff Gordon’s late crash (Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth).

And they’re still in position to have all four of their drivers advance to the Contender Round following next weekend’s first-round finale at Dover International Speedway – a track that’s been good for HMS and especially so for Johnson, who won his ninth race on the “Monster Mile” this past June.

Earnhardt has also been strong as of late on the Dover concrete.

“I know everybody is looking at us like we are falling off a little bit, but Chicago hadn’t been a great track for us and New Hampshire hadn’t either,” said Earnhardt. “Dover has. So I will be surprised if we don’t go down there and be competitive.

“We were racing for a win there last year and ran pretty good there this year [finished ninth]. I look forward to going and having a good car.”

Indeed, Team Penske has been superb in the early going of the Chase. But look out for a proper response from HMS in Delaware.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”