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JUN 15, 2014 | Brooklyn, Mich.

Penske Duo Pace Fusions in Michigan

keselowski_Michigan_2014

Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead with nine laps to go and held on to give Hendrick Motorsports its fifth straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win by taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

For Johnson it gave him three wins in the last four races (Charlotte, Dover, Michigan) and his 69th overall as he took the individual lead for most victories this season.

The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Juan Pablo Montoya carried the Ford banner all afternoon.  Logano led 29 laps and finished ninth after his late-race strategy forced him to pit for fuel and two tires with 17 laps to go while Keselowski paced the Ford contingent with a third-place run.  Montoya, who made the first of two starts in the No. 12 SKF Fusion, finished 18th.

“We didn’t have the speed all weekend to be a frontrunner in the sense of contending to win based on speed, but the guys did a great job with execution,” said Keselowski.  “I thought we executed really well.  We had a lot of good restarts.  We had solid strategy.  I was talking with Joey Logano before the race about how we needed a good blue-collar day and that’s kind of what today was for us.”

Logano was in position for an even better finish, but the final restart with 48 laps to go didn’t go his way.

“We seemed to have some good restarts all day, except for the last one, which is the most important one,” said Logano.  “We got the run we needed and then got loose and got stuck in the middle of three-wide and lost all the air in the car and lost my momentum, so I went back a little bit.”

The day looked promising for Aric Almirola in the early stages as he qualified fourth, but his No. 43 Smithfield Fusion spun on lap 123 and put him two laps down after getting stuck in the infield grass.  Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Marcos Ambrose struggled much of the day and finished 25th.

Even though Michigan is considered one of its best tracks, it was a difficult day for the Roush Fenway trio of Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.  Biffle managed to finish on the lead lap in 20th, but Edwards was one lap down in 23rd and Stenhouse two laps off the pace in 27th.

“That was a big struggle.  It was pretty tough, but we worked hard and didn’t quit,” said Edwards.  “Fortunately, we have a win to get us in the Chase, but we’ve just got to get better as a group.  That’s the way it is.”

The next opportunity for improvement will be next weekend when the series heads to Sonoma Raceway for the first of two road course races this season.

RACE RESULTS
1. Jimmie Johnson
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Paul Menard
5. Kasey Kahne
6. Jeff Gordon
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Kyle Larson
9. Joey Logano
10. Clint Bowyer
--------------
18. Juan Pablo Montoya
19. Trevor Bayne
20. Greg Biffle
23. Carl Edwards
25. Marcos Ambrose
26. David Gilliland
27. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
31. Aric Almirola
38. David Ragan

JOEY LOGANO – No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion – “Going into today I didn’t think our car was gonna be very good, but Todd made some good changes overnight and made us more competitive.  We seemed to have some good restarts all day, except for the last one, which is the most important one.  We got the run we needed and then got loose and got stuck in the middle of three-wide and lost all the air in the car and lost my momentum so I went back a little bit.  That’s the only time you’re able to pass someone, so you’ve got to be able to push really hard at those times and we weren’t able to capitalize after that.  I think we fell back to maybe eighth or ninth and that’ s where we rode the rest of the day.  All the guys on this Shell/Pennzoil team did everything they were supposed to do.  The strategy got a little mixed up at one point and then we didn’t get the best last restart and that’s what it is.  If you put us out front, we can lead laps.  If you put us second or third, we’d probably stay there.  You place us 10th and we’d probably stay there, too.  It’s really tough to pass.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA – No. 12 SKF Ford Fusion – “We started the race really, really loose and we were not really expecting that based on practice.  It’s hard because we went from practice to the race without really changing that much and it was awful.  We were kind of catching up and we did a good job.  I got the lucky dog and we were getting better and then I think we went a little too far with the car at the end, but we’re learning and understanding a little more.”  HOW WAS THE RACING? “It’s hard because you can’t run beside anybody and you get pulled around, plus the track was so slick.”  DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING FOR INDY?  “I think so.  I understand the car a little bit more and how everything works with the team, and where we stand with the setup, so I think that will be pretty useful.”

TREVOR BAYNE – No. 21 Quick Lane Ford Fusion – "It was OK, but it's not what we want. We slid around 19th or so all day and could have had a better-handling race car, but all in all it was an uneventful day. It was nice to get back on the lead lap with the Lucky Dog and race for position, but we were better than I thought we'd be after practice.” CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR STRATEGY AT THE END?  “We knew we were going to be about 10 laps short on gas and you don't want to run out, so they made the right call."

CARL EDWARDS – No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion – “That was a big struggle.  It was pretty tough, but we worked hard and didn’t quit.  Fortunately, we have a win to get us in the Chase, but we’ve just got to get better as a group.  That’s the way it is.”

TRAVIS KVAPIL – No. 32 KeenParts.com Ford Fusion – “I feel horrible.  We started last and had plenty of time.  I saw it and was getting slowed down and was creeping down by the grass.  It was almost like a situation where I was going too slow, instead of just driving through the wreck.  Once I got to the grass I couldn’t go any lower.  The car wouldn’t turn in the grass and he just kept coming down and it peeled the right-front off of it.  The car is hurt pretty bad, so I feel bad for the Go Green Team.  Bummer.  Lap one.  What a disappointing day, but we’ll go out there and ride around and finish it out.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – PRESS CONFERENCE – “We didn’t have the speed all weekend to be a frontrunner in the sense of contending to win based on speed, but the guys did a great job with execution.  I thought we executed really well.  We had a lot of good restarts.  We had solid strategy.  I was talking with Joey Logano before the race about how we needed a good blue-collar day and that’s kind of what today was for us.  We just kind of trudged through it and came away with another top-three effort, which is good.  It’s not great.  We want the wins, especially here at Michigan.  That would mean a lot.  We just need a little bit more speed to be able to get there.  I thought Kevin was probably the car to beat there and you’ve got all those sequences so it was kind of strange how that played out and cost him a shot at it, but we probably would have ended up third to fifth no matter what.”

HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE OTHER CONTENDERS, ASSUMING HENDRICK IS AT THE TOP.  WHO IS NEXT TO CHALLENGE THEM?  “I don’t really think there is anybody in the wings.  I think the way this year’s package has kind of come together, where we’re at now is where we’re gonna be for the remainder of the year.  You might see some small gains from some teams, but I don’t see anything significant coming.  I think right now the Penske cars are probably the best when it comes to balance track-to-track.  The Hendrick cars are probably the best anywhere it takes power to run and these tracks are certainly one of those, and Kevin Harvick, his team is probably the fastest week-in and week-out, so I don’t really see that changing for the duration of the season.  I think what you’re going to find in the development cycle has been kind of found by this time in the year.  Maybe there’s a little bit more left on the table, but not enough to take a team that’s not there to be there.  That’s just kind of my experience, but we all have a little bit of work to do because it’s pretty obvious the Hendrick engines are way ahead of everyone else. Usually, that’s not something you catch up with in one season as far ahead as they are right now.  They’re probably a full season ahead of everyone, so we’ve got work to do to get there.  Thankfully, we’ve got 12-13 weeks until the Chase starts.  I know we’ve got some stuff coming up for that, but I think we’re right there – maybe just half-a-nose behind Hendrick-powered cars.  We need just a little bit more and if we can do that, I really feel like we can have a strong march over the fall and have a shot at running for the championship, but to finish the answer to the question up, I think what you’re seeing right now is probably the top five or 10 is what it’s gonna be when it comes down to money time in the Chase.”

ARE YOU SURPRISED AT HOW THE ROUSH TEAMS PERFORMED TODAY?  “I know there’s a lot of stuff going on over there.  It’s not really fair for me to really judge anything there because I know just enough to sound like a fool.  I know they would probably tell you they’re not where they want to be, but I would always assume that there’s something they have over there that we don’t.  I think the 99 team has been one of the strongest on pit road and that’s probably our weak spot as a team, so there’s probably something to learn there.  There’s always something when you share information and I know that’s really important to Ford, and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so whether they’re contending for wins or not.”

THIS TURNED INTO A STRATEGY RACE. WAS SOMEONE DESTINED TO TRY WHAT THE 4, 20 AND 22 DID BY STAYING OUT?  “I sympathize for the crew chiefs here.  This is such a tough race to call strategy-wise, and you’re really at the mercy of debris yellows at the end and where they fall.  I thought Kevin was probably the guy to beat today and he probably feels that way too, I would imagine, and the way that yellow fell just kind of completely killed him, but that’s just the way it is.”

HOW NICE IS A TOP-THREE FINISH IN YOUR HOME STATE?  “It’s always good to run well here and we didn’t run as well as we wanted to, but we certainly didn’t run poorly.  Like I said, it was a good day, not a great day.  Third is nothing to hang your hat on.  We have consistency, which is good.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean much right now at this time of the year in the sense of points, but it does mean a lot to us in the sense of overall morale and our ability to really make a push as the fall months come in the Chase, so that’s important to us even if it might not show a tangible result in the short term.  So I’m happy for that, but to be really happy I’d want to win here today, especially on Father’s Day.  That would be really special for me and my family here at my home track in Michigan.”