State of the 2 Crew: The First Quarter

As the checkered flag flew in Richmond, it marked the end of the ninth points paying race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Season—one quarter of the way through the 36-race slate. Brad Keselowski and his 2 Crew have shown some promising efforts, putting themselves firmly in the chase for their second Cup title, but they also made it through the first quarter knowing where the must improve over the next 27 events to achieve that ultimate goal.

Daytona

Crossing the finish line in one piece is always welcomed at Daytona, but the restrictor plate performance left the 2 Crew wanting more. While the P20 finish wasn’t a bad start to the season, Brad said the car was lacking that bit of speed necessary to contend for the win. Additionally, raceday Sunday was by far the warmest day of all Speedweeks, resulting in most cars battling a loose handling condition all race long.

Atlanta

With the highly anticipated 2016 debut of the new low downforce package, BK was optimistic about his chances at the Hampton, Ga. quad oval track. While he enjoyed slipping and sliding around on the worn pavement en route to a ninth place finish, the Autotrader Ford Fusion was a short run car in a long run race.

It was an overall disappointing low-downforce debut for all of Team Penske, resulting in a turning point. A garage-wide meeting took place, as the Penske crew went back to the drawing board, and it paid off in a big way the following week.

2016 NASCAR Atlanta

Las Vegas

The tides finally worked in Brad’s favor, as the 2 Crew celebrated a victory in Vegas. Afterward, Brad praised the work done by his team in the garage. It was a one-two finish for him and teammate Joey Logano, while rookie Ryan Blaney drove his Penske-powered Wood Brothers Ford to sixth place.

“Thanks everyone at Team Penske. We weren’t where we wanted to be last week but they worked on the cars and came out with some better stuff, and boy did it pay off. As my boss would say, effort equals results,” Brad said. “It’ll be hard to pick out one team as a favorite. But certainly the performance we showed today, finishing one-two with Team Penske, shows that when we get things right, we can be one of the dominant teams.”

The 1.5-mile track offered both elements of a winning car, as Kes was able to make some aggressive moves and dart around on restarts, and continue hauling on the long run. Passing hometown driver Kyle Busch with six laps to go, BK saw the lead and never looked back. Early in the going, the racecar was also lightning quick down pit road, flagging a speeding penalty. Overcoming the penalty with a win just showed what the team was made of, and how calmly they can handle a tough scenario.

“This is really, really great. It seemed like there were plenty of challenges, whether it was pit road or the weather or cautions. They threw everything they had at us today but this Miller Lite Ford team was too strong and we were able to fight them off and get to Victory Lane,” BK said. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 34 races. We led a lot of races in that time span and probably deserved to win a few more races, but that’s kind of how racing goes sometimes. We’re thrilled to be back and locked into the Chase so early in this season.”

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Las Vegas

Phoenix

Racing can offer quick reality checks to a team right when they least want it, and a blown right rear tire caused one for Team Penske’s No. 2 car as it looked for a second straight win. Running solidly in the Top 10 for a majority of the first 227 laps, the race wasn’t meant to be. Luckily, Brad managed to keep his tripod from veering into the wall, but a shard of shrapnel from the shredded Goodyear Eagle sliced a critical brake line. The 29th place result stands as the worst of the season thus far.

Fontana

Returning to the site of his only 2015 victory gave Special K a needed confidence boost at one of his statistically worst circuits. In the early going, a second pit road mishap of the season struck, this time in the form of an uncontrolled tire violation. Brad remained optimistic, thinking back to their last penalty and the outcome of that race. His level-headed driving brought the Wurth Ford Fusion home to a ninth place result. Top 10’s are always welcomed, but especially so when it came as BK’s second best career finish at the two-mile southern California speedway.

Martinsville

After disappointing back-to-back races, Kes headed back to a track where he’s found loads of recent success. The 2 Crew left Martinsville with their second Top 5 of the season, but it was a group effort to get there. In the first 100 laps of the race, Brad added some additional work to his team’s agenda, with another speeding ticket on the oldest NASCAR track’s narrow pit road. Passing 52 cars in the entire race, he passed enough to leave the historic site with a respectable result.

It also gives Brad hope for what will be a critical race during the Chase.

“We’ve been really good here the last few times. If we can keep knocking on that Top 5 door like we have the last three times here, we’ll break through and get a win,” Brad said. “On to the next one.”

2016 NASCAR Martinsville

Texas

Just as it appeared BK was going on an upswing, the Texas event knocked him off the pedestal. An 18th place result in a wild race isn’t a cause for concern, but finishing two laps behind pace was untraditional for the No. 2 car. Once again, the pit road trend bit the Miller Lite machine, as the driver reported a vibration stemming from a loose wheel. Kes brought his car back to the servicing box on lap 130 for an unscheduled stop to replace his four wheels. Prior to the loose lug, the Deuce was turning laps a bit off where they planned, as weather delayed the start of the race by nearly two hours, and removing the layer of rubber on the 1.5 mile track.

In his last trip to Fort Worth, Keslowski led 312 laps and finished second, so the lack of speed came as a disappointment. But the 2 Crew moved on.

Bristol

Returning to one of Brad’s more successful tracks gave the team some much needed confidence. But on the first trip through Thunder Valley’s pit road, the No. 2 was once again slammed with a speeding penalty. Only 50 laps into the 500 lap event, Kes had plenty of time to rebound from the miscue. Working his way through the field, the Deuce returned to the Top 5 with just over 100 laps remaining, when a flat tire struck the car. The unscheduled green flag stop set BK two laps behind, but utilizing a wave around and a free pass, he ended up with a second straight 18th place finish.

Richmond

As rain once again plagued the weekend, two practice sessions and qualifying were all rained out, leaving the 2 Crew puzzled with their car. Early in the race, Brad drove around the 10th place area, but the car struggled over the course of a long run. Short pitting under the first green flag sequence of the day provided immediate results for the Thomas Built Buses Ford, boosting to third from eighth. Initially, the plan was a success, but as another long run ensued, Keselowski couldn’t maintain the position. Later in the race, crew chief Paul Wolfe elected to leave his driver on the track, where he paced the field for six laps. The tire fall off again consumed the performance, with the No. 2 dropping like a rock. Brad clawed his way back to 11th, an improvement from the last two weeks—albeit not where the 2 Crew wants to be.

2016 NASCAR Richmond

Forward Drive

To return to championship form, the 2 Crew knows it must peak at the right time and sharpen up all aspects of their game. The No. 2 team has made some strides with its pit stop speed, but mistakes must be limited. That also includes mistakes by the driver. Brad has been flagged for pit road speeding three times—and all these miscues could spell the difference between championship and an early exit in the Chase.

Already having the valuable Chase locking win, it allows Kes & Wolfe to experiment throughout the rest of the regular season. Going for broke in strategy, both on the track and pit road should help the entire team when it comes time to compete for the title. Looking ahead to the next five races, Brad has a reason to enter with confidence, as he owns wins each of the Cup circuit’s next five stops.

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