(Brad Keselowski was one of the 2011 season's surprises driving to three victories in the Penske "Blue Deuce")
It was both a successful as well as tumultuous season for Penske Racing.
While team owner Roger Penske saw both his cars make the Chase and win multiple races, an end of season controversy with driver Kurt Busch tainted the organization’s 2011 effort.
Busch and teammate Brad Keselowski teamed up to find victory lane five times last season and both advanced to the playoffs. That performance more than exceeded expectations many had for the only Dodge team in the Sprint Cup Series.
“I don’t believe we’re shorthanded at all,” said Steve Addington, who served as Busch’s crew chief in 2011. “In fact we maybe got more support from the manufacturer than other multi-car teams with say Chevrolet or Ford or Toyota because we were the only two Dodge teams on the track. They’ve been a great partner and we couldn’t accomplish what we have without the resources they provide.”
Keselowski enjoyed a breakout season in 2011 and his three wins propelled him into the Chase as a wild card entry.
After winning his first race of the season in the June trip to Kansas Speedway, Keselowski really caught fire later in the summer ironically right after breaking his foot and ankle in a testing crash at Road Atlanta.
Keselowski roared back the following Sunday to win at Pocono and continued a roll that vaulted him into the Chase and made him a legitimate title contender until late in the playoff run.
“This has definitely been a dream season for me in my first year driving the ‘Blue Deuce,'" said Keselowski, who finished fifth in the final point standings. "We were able to show progression as the year went along and that was one of the most important things for me. This was basically a new team and for us to compete for the championship in our first year together really bodes well for our future.”
Busch and Addington started the season strong with a stellar effort at Daytona’s Speedweeks that included a Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duel win as well as a solid in the in the Daytona 500.
But it was a roller coaster season the rest of the way that had many peaks and valleys including a pair of wins at Sonoma in June and again at Dover come October.
Busch’s famous temper got the better of him several times during races with radio communication meltdowns aimed at Addington, the team and even Penske punctuating the year.
His emotional outbursts spilled over to the media and Busch got into heated exchanges with press members on more than one occasion at one point grabbing a transcript from a reporter and ripping it in half when he denied saying what was printed in black and white.
(WARNING - GRAPHIC LANGUAGE)
However the final straw came at Homestead’s season finale when Busch launched into a expletive-laden tirade toward ESPN reporter Dr. Jerry Punch and his crew, a moment that was caught on video by a nearby fan and became a You Tube sensation.
It led to Busch and Penske “mutually parting ways” at season’s end, finally drawing his at times successful but turbulent career with the legendary team owner to a conclusion.
The Penske shake-up included Addington’s departure from the team to take over as Tony Stewart’s crew chief at Stewart-Haas Racing as well as Busch leaving the organization.
So Penske rebuilt the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge squad by bringing A.J. Allmendinger over from Richard Petty Motorsports to pair up with former Nationwide crew chief Todd Gordon.
Allmendinger, who was considered by many to be the next first time winner in the series after an impressive year with RPM, was elated to get an opportunity to drive for Penske.
In addition to their NASCAR careers, the duo share experience and success in open wheel racing and Allmendinger hopes that will carry over to his stock car performance.
Yeah, I think for me with my background and where I've come from, Roger Penske and just Penske Corporation as a race team, as a business, the way he goes about just taking care of his guys, everything that goes along with that, it's been the pinnacle,” Allmendinger said. “I've always wanted to drive for Mr. Penske, so it's something that when the opportunity arose, I was -- I jumped right at it.
“It's something that I have always dreamed of, and I just feel like the way he runs his organization, the way he takes care of his people is first-class and top-notch. So that's something that I wanted to be a part of.”
Keselowski and his crew chief Paul Wolfe now become the veteran leadership of the two car tandem in 2012. Keselowski believes the foundation of what they accomplished last season will again make the No. 2 entry a championship-caliber team again this year.
"We want to fire out of the box strong next season, compete for wins early, and show everyone that we are going to be a legitimate team for years to come," Keselowski said. "I’ll take a little time to myself over the off-season, but I’m already excited about going to Daytona next year.”
The pressure will be on Allmendinger and Gordon to take over a car that won twice and made the Chase last season. It may a tall task to ask from a driver still searching for Sprint Cup win number one and a rookie crew chief. A good start will go a long way in helping the pair build confidence and chemistry, which will be starting from square one. Keselowski appears poised to take the next step in his career and join the group of elite drivers in the series. As he demonstrated last season, a good beginning to the campaign isn’t necessarily imperative in his case as he was impressive in the late regular schedule run into the playoffs. I’d expect at least one of the Penske duo to make the Chase and the driver of the Miller Lite No. 2 is the choice.
CHECK OUT MORE POSTS FROM OUR 2011 TEAM REVIEW/2012 PREVIEW SERIES
For more NASCAR news, rumors and analysis, follow @PPistone on Twitter, subscribe to the RSS feed
|More NASCAR coverage|