Owner: Roger Penske (68 career wins, 0 career Cup championships)
Drivers: Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger (finished fifth and 15th, respectively, in 2011)
Crew chiefs: Paul Wolfe (Keselowski), Todd Gordon (Allmendinger)
Key offseason changes: Kurt Busch’s departure after six seasons at Penske will change the dynamic of the Sprint Cup program. Before the champ’s departure, his crew chief, Steve Addington, was already out the door and headed for Stewart-Haas Racing, which opened the door for Gordon’s internal promotion from the Nationwide Series to the No. 22 Dodge.
Overview: The changes implemented by Penske Racing at the end of 2010 paid dividends throughout the season for NASCAR’s boutique operation. The reassignment of Travis Geisler from crew chief to competition director offered the Cup program a point person to pull both teams together and freed up vice president of operations Mike Nelson to concentrate on larger projects. For the first time since 2004, both teams experienced winning seasons and for the first time since 2005, both teams qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Now, Keselowski and Allmendinger can build on 2011’s success.
In only two full seasons on the Cup tour, Keselowski convinced pundits that he will be a perennial contender. His breakthrough victory at Kansas Speedway in June put the No. 2 Dodge on people’s radar screen. Keselowski’s resilience, perseverance — and victory — while driving with a broken ankle at Pocono Raceway following a wreck during a test earlier in the week at Road Atlanta proved just how determined he is to make his mark in NASCAR. If there were any doubt about his staying power, then an additional victory at Bristol and a fifth-place finish in the Chase solidified his Cup coming-out party.
Keselowski, who turns 28 on Sunday, is the ideal student, and his relationship with Wolfe has blossomed. They continue to build quite the notebook and showed improvement at every track the team returned to in 2011.
"There’s no other place in racing that I feel is any stronger than we are right now here at Penske," Keselowski said last month. If this pair remain humble, there’s no telling what the Blue Deuce will accomplish in 2012.
Allmendinger is well aware that his opportunity with Penske Racing is the chance of a lifetime and, at 30, he must make the most of it.
Allmendinger is now the only driver among the top 30 without a check in the win column, and that has to change. But given his record of continual progress through each season, the stability that Penske Racing affords will relieve Allmendinger of any excuses. The Penske newcomer brings the momentum of winning the Rolex 24 to his new team — a perfect way to kick off the season.
Through testing and regular preseason trips to the shop, Allmendinger hopes to build a solid foundation with Gordon and the crew. Considering the success that Gordon had with Keselowski in the Nationwide Series last season, his relationship with both drivers will allow the Clemson University engineering grad the luxury of interfacing with the two squads. His ability to draw from two sets of notes with cars that are built identically will offer Gordon a solid platform for Allmendinger — even though the drivers’ styles are different.
Allmendinger’s enthusiasm and affable personality already have made him a welcomed addition to the Penske roster. If his performance can equal his positive attitude, Allmendinger will have found a permanent home.
Prediction: With two tremendously talented drivers and a full arsenal of sponsorship, the potential for this organization is limitless. Penske is the only true factory team in NASCAR: Dodge can place all its resources behind this operation, and the dividends should be immediate.
Both Keselowski and Allmendinger are young and hungry and will push each other to raise the bar. Keselowski’s initial reviews of his teammate from the Daytona test in January were positive, and the pair remained toward the top of the speed chart throughout the exercise. There’s no reason Keselowski shouldn’t equal last year’s achievements. As for ‘Dinger, who missed last year’s Chase by one position, a win and postseason presence is not out of the question.