Roger Penske will walk into the Daytona International Speedway in 2013 as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion for the first time in his 29-years as a car owner in the most profound racing series in the entire world. Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing teamed up to win the 2012 Sprint Cup Series championship, the first for everyone involved in the team.
It was a remarkable season for Penske Racing. However, every great team has controversy. Keselowski was fined for being on Twitter during a race late in the season, even though he overpopulated his Twitter page by being the first driver to use his phone inside of his car. When fans saw that, they were amazed that he was able to take a picture in the car, let alone have his phone inside of his pocket. But, that wasn’t the only controversy the team had in 2012.
The A.J. Allmendinger saga. It could have tarnished the Penske Racing name, but it didn’t. Instead, it made Penske’s two Sprint Cup Series teams work even more to help Keselowski make the Chase for the Sprint Cup and eventually win the championship. Allmendinger was notably suspended just hours before the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. The news came as a shock to the entire NASCAR scene considering Allmendinger’s strenuous work ethic. In the end, NASCAR indefinitely suspended Allmendinger and Penske Racing flat out fired the man.
Allmendinger ended up racing at the back of the pack once he completed NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program, probably the most embarrassing thing he has ever had to do. Innocent or not, Allmendinger was out of a championship caliber ride. Sam Hornish Jr. ended up replacing Allmendinger for the remaining 19 races and finished in the top-20 in 10 of those races. Hornish had a chance to win a few races including Watkins Glen, his lone top-five, but ended up finishing fifth in that event. However, as a replacement driver splitting the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup Series schedules, Hornish did a rather respectable job in the No. 22 and was involved in the conversation about being the primary driver for the No. 22 car in 2013.
Penske Racing’s Nationwide Series program was also rather successful in 2012. Hornish finished the year fourth in points even though he failed to win a single race. He was able to revive a dying career that could have sent him back to the Izod INDY Car Series, a place where he found the competition to be simply too easy. The team also had a second car with Keselowski driving the majority of the races. Parker Kligerman started out the year as a development driver for the team and ran just three races but had two top-10′s.
Kligerman was basically replaced by hot shot Ryan Blaney who won a Camping World Truck Series race with Keselowski’s team once Kligerman left for Red Horse Racing. Jacques Villeneueve also ran two races for the team and could have won both races if he wasn’t such a mad man behind the wheel.
In 2013, Penske Racing will be making the jump from Dodge to Ford. A return that has been awaited for since the team left for Dodge in 2003. The team had previously built their own engines, but in 2013 they will use engines from the Roush-Yates engine program. Both Keselowski and his crew chief, Paul Wolfe have contracts until 2015 which can create a dynasty if they continue to have success such as what they had in 2012.
The team also announced a replacement driver for the No. 22 car. Joey Logano will make the move to Penske Racing in 2013 with Shell/Pennzoil staying aboard no matter who the driver is throughout the 2014 season. Logano and Keselowski have already begun to work together which should create much needed chemistry that developed when Hornish took over half-way through the 2012 season.
Hornish resigned with Penske Racing late in 2012 and will continue to drive a full-time Nationwide Series car with the hopes of being in the Sprint Cup Series in 2014. Greg Irwin will be Hornish’s crew chief in 2013 and replaces Chad Walter who couldn’t lead Hornish to a lone win in 2012.
Jeremy Bullins remains atop the pit box for the No. 22 car as Keselowski and Blaney are expected to split the schedule with Keselowski running the majority of the races with the team. It will likely continue to be a development team as it wouldn’t be surprising to see Alex Bowman in this car on a part-time basis after he ran four races with Turner Motorsports and RAB Racing, something Penske Racing hopes to prevent after he won four races in the ARCA Series in 2012 and won the championship.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.