It was just a year ago that Penske Racing, or at least its NASCAR branch, appeared to be in total turmoil.
Kurt Busch used a meltdown over his team radio at Richmond to assail all the shortcomings he saw at Penske. It certainly got the attention of team management, and behind-thescene changes began almost immediately.
The performance began to improve, too, especially for Brad Keselowski. Spurred in part by Busch’s claim that it had been years since he’d had a competitive teammate, Keselowski went on to win three races and earn a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship .
Now, a year removed from that low point for the proud Penske organization, things couldn’t be better. Keselowski’s win on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — the first for team owner Roger Penske — was his second of the season and cemented him as a strong contender to give Penske his first Cup championship.
And, oh, by the way, Penske’s IndyCar team is pretty good, too. His drivers have combined to win all four races and all four poles so far this season, and begin Saturday preparing for the Indianapolis 500 — a race the organization has won 15 times.
“ I’m not king of the world, I’ll tell you that for sure,” Penske said. “I think we made some changes last year after Richmond. We had a plan. I think everybody stuck together. Kurt was a big help there, obviously as we got going with getting in the Chase. I think you’ve seen this year this year we’ve been very competitive.
“On the IndyCar side, when you win the first four races, can’t do much better than that. Overall, I think we’ve got a great season going. It’s a credit really to our people.”
It was Keselowski who gave Penske his only NASCAR title, in 2010 in the second-tier Nationwide Series. Otherwise, the most decorated team owner in motorsports has been shutout. Penske first joined in NASCAR in 1972, but was out of the series from 1981 through 1990.
The opportunity to take Penske to the head table at the season-ending awards ceremony is why Keselowski chose the organization over everybody else in NASCAR when he got out of his developmental deal with Hendrick Motorsports after the 2009 season.
“I want to be that first guy. I feel like (Penske’s) dedicated to making that happen,” Keselowski said. “I look as some of the other elite car owners in the sport, and I don’t want this to be offensive, but to win another Cup championship for Hendrick or Richard Childress is not the same as winning the first for Roger Penske. That’s a whole different accomplishment.
“I think he’s certainly paid his dues in this sport, has that reputation as … a titan for a reason, and that is that he can get it done. I want to be the guy that proves it in the record books.”