Penske and Chevy hope promising Las Vegas continues to California

Joey Logano would love to say that his first true race weekend with his new crew chief proved that everything will be great this weekend as the NASCAR Cup Series heads to California and throughout 2020.

Except he can’t.

Yeah, Logano won Sunday at Las Vegas, but few in racing put total stock in just a week or two. Change is evaluated over months, not weeks.

But the Penske crew chief changes did at least show promise as Logano won, Ryan Blaney led until a late caution and Brad Keselowski improved steadily during the event into a potential top-five car.

The Penske crew chief changes, the change atop the box for 2018 Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and the new Chevrolet body headlined the biggest offseason moves prior to the 2020 season. While Daytona is pretty much a beast of its own with limited ability for a crew chief to have an impact on a race weekend (car changes are minimal, limited strategy), many viewed Vegas as their first real test.

In even a bigger lens, the west coast swing – the series heads to Auto Club (California) Speedway this weekend and Phoenix Raceway next week – should provide many clues on whether the changes will work down the road.

“One race as a sample size is kind of tough,” Logano said following his Vegas win. “But this has been, I think, for Team Penske our best race track here in recent years, so it’s not a surprise to see all those cars up front.”

At Penske, the offseason moves had Logano getting Keselowski’s crew headed by Paul Wolfe, Keselowski paired with Blaney’s crew headed by Jeremy Bullins, and Blaney teaming with Logano’s crew headed by Todd Gordon.

“We made the move because we think there’s a lot to gain from it,” Logano said. “That’s the reason why you do it as Team Penske as a whole, not just one particular car.

“I think time will tell, but it’s a good start.”

Keselowski said the car was built a little different than the ones he had run in the past at Vegas.

“I wish I could re-run the weekend and work through some things, but I certainly learned a lot and am confident we can win races,” Keselowski said.

Blaney could have won the first two races this year and they slipped away. The decision by Gordon to pit certainly, in hindsight, looked like the wrong one. That will happen to the best of crew chiefs so don’t expect a great deal of angst unless it happens again.

“Everyone ran pretty decent,” Blaney said. “I think it all worked.”

The other big crew chief change in the offseason came with Martin Truex Jr., whose crew chief Cole Pearn decided to retire and run a ski resort in his home country of Canada. Engineer James Small took his place, and Truex was by far the best Toyota at Vegas until a pit road miscue put him in the rear.

Possibly the biggest boost as the teams head to California could be the new Chevrolet. All four of the Hendrick Motorsports cars ran well, the JTG Daugherty cars looked improved, and it wasn’t a bad day for Richard Childress Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t look as strong as a year ago.

Six Chevrolets finished in the top-10 at Vegas.

The body changes with the nose and the rear of the car are designed with more curving that should help with the aerodynamics of the car.

Last year at California, two Chevrolets finished in the top-10. Those drivers will be anxious to see if the encouraging signs from Vegas do continue.

“Last year, we could make the cars drive well but we couldn’t catch the car in front of us and the guys behind us would run us down,” seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said following a fifth-place finish at Vegas.

Typically, raw speed improvements would come with engine development, but Johnson said it is the impact of the new body.

“It’s really just overall shape of the body – there are ways to create downforce that you pay a higher drag penalty for than others,” Johnson said. “Our car that we have now is much more efficient. We’re creating great downforce with less drag.”

 

Xfinity: Good Start Sieg

Ryan Sieg made the Xfinity Series playoffs last year with his family’s RSS Racing, and his third-place run at Vegas showed he hopes he has a strong 2020 with the continued Richard Childress Racing alliance.

“I was surprised,” Sieg said. “I didn’t know what we were going to have. … We were pretty good in California last year and we should be even better.”

 

Trucks: Time Off

There is no west coast swing for truck teams, which get a two-week break before returning at Atlanta. The teams will use that time to get trucks ready.

Jordan Anderson and his team could use the time. The team has a chassis it used many times last year with solid results, but it needed a new body. The money earned from the second-place finish will allow his team to put a new body on it sooner than expected.

 

Stat of Note

Eight of the last 12 races at Auto Club Speedway have been won by drivers from the West Coast: California natives Jimmie Johnson (fall 2009, fall 2010, 2016), Kevin Harvick (2011) and Kyle Larson (2017) and Nevada native Kyle Busch (2013, 2014, 2019).

 

Viewers Guide

Friday

Xfinity practice: 3:05-3:55 p.m. ET, FS1

Cup practice, 4:05-4:55 p.m. ET, FS1

Xfinity practice, 5:02-5:27 p.m. ET, FS1

Cup practice 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET, FS1

Saturday

Xfinity qualifying, 1:05 p.m. ET, FS1

Cup qualifying, 2:35 p.m. ET, FS1

Xfinity race, 4:00 p.m. ET, FS1

Sunday

Cup race, 3:30 p.m. ET, FOX

 

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What They Said

“How are you not a fan of Ricky Rudd? I was a fan of him growing up. Met him a few times, which is cool. A hard‑nosed racer is what he was and really fun to watch.” – Joey Logano, whose 24th career Cup win lifted him past Ricky Rudd for 35th on the all-time list