We will examine Team Penske’s four-car entry into the 63rd running of the Great American Race on February 14, 2021 in this article.
In the long, storied career of NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Roger Penske, his drivers have given him 125 Cup Series victories.
The best of the lot, at least for a single season, was Rusty Wallace in 1993. It was the only time anyone in the organization reached double-digits, scoring ten in 30 starts.
Penske has a long reach in American motorsports from ARCA Menards to three NASCAR national series and even IndyCar.
He has also become the owner of the most iconic race track in the country, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Racing is in his blood, and winning is what he does.
Known as The Captain, Penske has multiple wins in IndyCar’s premier event, the Indianapolis 500 (18 times), and NASCAR’s marquee season opener, the Daytona 500 (won twice).
He will look to add to those numbers this season, but first up, Daytona.
Team Penske will have four drivers looking to etch their names in the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Two stalwarts, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, one young veteran, Ryan Blaney, and a rookie, Austin Cindric.
Here are their thoughts, shared during a virtual press conference.
Team Penske line-up
Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang
On the importance of winning the Daytona 500, then focusing on the rest of the season:
“It’s kind of like having your final exam on the first day of school. It’s a big moment for our sport. It’s very much inverse to most other sports, where the biggest game is at the end of the year rather than at the start of the year, but I think it’s one of the things that makes our sport unique is to have the biggest race at the start of the year the first race of the season. It feels like the first day of school. Everybody’s got all their best uniforms on. You dress your best the first day of school. Everything is new – pit boxes, cars, and it just has that crisp feel to it. It’s a very unique race weekend as compared to any other weekend, and obviously very special with respect to the success you have at Daytona can carry with you forever.”
Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang
On how the Daytona 500 has changed since his victory in 2015:
"It’s been unpredictable every year no matter what’s going on. Probably the one thing you can predict is that the end of the race is just gonna be crazy. It is the biggest race of the year. It’s the Great American Race and the only race that you would argue is bigger than that is the championship race and that’s only for four cars. This is the biggest race or 40 cars out there, so everyone is out there racing extremely hard, especially towards the end of the race. The pushing and shoving becomes very aggressive, which that has been consistent over the years, but as the rules package changes – especially with this new spoiler on the back of it – we’ve seen over the last couple of years the shoving has become really aggressive and the blocks have been harder to pull off successfully as the runs are bigger. That’s all kind of a recipe for disaster at the end of these things, so the key is to be up towards the front when it matters the most. You try to collect points while you can during the stages. I mean, it’s not just checkers or wreckers the whole race, but at the end of the race it’s kind of like the championship – no one remembers who finishes second. No one know who finished second in the Daytona 500 last year. I don’t know, and that’s just what this race is about.”
Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang
On the mindset when strapping in for the biggest race of the year:
“It’s not only our biggest race of the year, but it’s the first race of the year, too. So, you kind of get back in the rhythm of things for sure, and it’s just nice to sit in a car again. And then know this is the first race of the year and obviously you know what it means to win it. My mind just kind of goes through the strategy of the race, but then keeping an open mind because things don’t always go to plan, especially in that race. You never know what’s gonna happen, so the biggest thing is just trying to make it to the end. Obviously, you’ve got to be there to have a shot at it, and sometimes that’s out of your control. I think it’s just nice to finally get back going again. I like our biggest race is the first one of the year. People want to get stuff rolling again after the offseason and that’s a good way to do it and that’s how it’s always been, but the main thing for me is I love racing and it’s just nice to know that we’re finally racing again. That’s what kind of goes through my head there at the start of the 500, and I obviously think about winning the race, too.”
Austin Cindric, No. 33 Verizon Ford Mustang
Cindric will be running a limited Cup Series schedule while competing for the Xfinity Series championship. He is not guaranteed a spot in the Daytona 500 and must qualify for the field.
On being thrown into the fire of having to qualify against guys like Ty Dillon, David Ragan, Noah Gragson, Timmy Hill, Kaz Grala, and others:
“Yeah. You can add Ryan Preece into that as well. He’s running a full season in an open entry, so I started thinking about it and start thinking about all the scenarios and you start feeling a little anxious and nervous. Even when this was coming together, just knowing the format and knowing how many open cars there are this year, it’s gonna be a challenge. I’d be lying if I said we wouldn’t have as good a shot as any to qualify our way in on speed, but you can’t count on that. I’ve put a lot of prep work already into understanding the Duels and understanding the format. They take one car out of each Duel, so that’s a very small window. That’s where all my focus is right now. I think it’s a bonus if we get into the race and I think everyone understands that. I think everyone respects that, including our sponsors, so we’ll go forward and try to put our best effort in. It’s gonna happen really fast, though. Looking at the weekend schedule on Wednesday I have to figure out how to drive a Cup car and how to qualify in the Daytona 500 in a day, so it won’t be easy but I’m looking forward to it.”