Headed into Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, many in the garage expected a battle between Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports throughout the day.
Looking for the organization’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Team Penske even brought in IndyCar regular Juan Pablo Montoya to increase its odds at delivering for team owner Roger Penske.
Earlier in the weekend, Brad Keselowski pointed out winning the Brickyard 400 was "the last thing left on the Penske bucket list."
However, at the end of the day it was team owner Rick Hendrick that was celebrating his ninth Brickyard 400 trophy while the Team Penske cars were barely a factor throughout the race.
Joey Logano led the Team Penske charge with a fifth-place finish, while Keselowski brought the No. 2 Ford home 12th and Montoya finished a disappointing 23rd.
Leading 10 laps in the early stages of the race, Logano was pleased with his top-five finish, saying it was an overall improvement on how they ran all weekend.
"We made progress with it all week," said Logano. "We didn’t unload very well. We kept trying to make up speed and Todd Gordon called a perfect race and got us the track position we needed to, but it’s just so hard to pass out there. I think we finished where we deserved to finish, we just need more speed in our car."
Montoya struggled from the drop of the green flag, falling back from his eighth-place starting spot almost immediately. The 2000 Indy 500 winner’s only real impact on the day came on Lap 32 when he made contact with 2011 Brickyard 400 winner Paul Menard, sending the No. 27 Chevrolet into the outside wall.
For Keselowski, his disappointing finish was more a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time on more than one occasion.
Restarting on the outside lane after the competition caution on Lap 26, Keselowski was forced to get out of the gas when Jeff Gordon stumbled at the front of the field. One of the most difficult tracks on the NASCAR circuit in terms of passing, Keselowski lost valuable track position.
Keselowski’s issues were not over there, however. Just a handful of laps later on Lap 33, Keselowski brought his No. 2 Ford to pit road under green flag conditions, but was hit in the right rear by Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. While there was no damage to Busch’s car, the contact flared out the right rear fender and slowed Keselowski’s car.
The 2012 Sprint Cup champion fell a lap down in the middle stages of Sunday’s race, but in the closing laps was able to get the free pass and work his way back to a 12th-place finish.
"We had a really, really fast car," said Keselowski. "I felt we had a third or fourth-place car from what I could tell there, but we just couldn’t put the day together. We ran in the top three there at the start and had that restart behind Jeff where he really checked up and we lost a lot of positions there. We had to get off strategy to try and make up for that, and then got to pit road and had a little contact with the 18 that damaged the car a little bit and knocked some speed out of it.
"We had our pit stop and lost a lap on the pit stop, and finally drove through the field and earned the lucky dog the hard way, and got back on the lead lap but there just weren’t enough laps left in the race," he said. "With 60 laps left we went from 30th to 15th in probably 40 of those. 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."
Although Roger Penske has 15 Indianapolis 500 victories to his name, he is now 0-for-21 in the Brickyard 400.