(Allmendinger joins Keselowski in a new-look Penske Racing tandem that many believe can challenge for the title)
Roger Penske has accomplished nearly everything possible in the world of auto racing.
Indy Car Series crowns, Indy 500 wins, sports car titles and Daytona 500 victories all adorn the resume of “The Captain.”
However there is one major item still on Penske’s bucket list and that is a Sprint Cup Series championship.
That may change in 2012.
Penske Racing enters the coming campaign with a new look duo of Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger and both drivers are poised to continue the success the team enjoyed last year.
Despite the turmoil caused by the controversial departure of Kurt Busch from the stable at season’s end, the Penske team enjoyed a year that included five trips to victory lane and both drivers earning spots in the Chase.
Ultimately things didn’t turn out the way he had hoped but the performance was encouraging enough for Penske to feel confident about where his organization is headed.
“It takes good people to be successful in any business including auto racing,” said Penske. “We have that here in place all around our NASCAR program and to me I think we’re in as good of a position to succeed as we’ve ever been. What Brad did last year and what we believe A.J. can accomplish with us this year has us pretty excited for 2012.”
Keselowski’s break out season that included three wins and a championship run once he got into the Chase as a wild car entry has the former Nationwide Series champ feeling pretty good about his chances this season.
“I’m really happy with how we ended last year,” Keselowski said. “There certainly are some areas to improve on, some of which I’ve seen us make large strides and some of which I have not.
“The areas where we’ve made large strides I’m very proud of and we’ve got to hit the items that we haven’t and we’ve got to hit them hard and have got to hit them quickly.”
Even before Busch’s departure, Keselowski had inherited the role of team leader, a position he completely embraces going forward.
Penske says she isn’t surprised Keselowski evolved into the leader of the race team or of the impact he’s had on the entire organization.
“He’s fully engaged; you can see the sponsors that we just renewed ... you don’t do that unless you have a good driver,” Penske said of Miller Lite signing on to continue its backing of the Blue Deuce. “I think that he helped us; he was instrumental in talking to AJ coming on to the team to give him some insight because when you’re changing drivers, you don’t have months and months to do research. It’s what you see on the track.”
Keselowski has embraced the leadership position and sees it as another example of his commitment to do whatever it takes to succeed.
“Sometimes you have to step up and do things,” Keselowski said. “It’s not because I necessarily enjoy it but it’s what we need to be successful and it’s what I’m committed to.
“I don’t really think I’ve changed that much off the track, but maybe I have. I don’t know. I’m certainly more confident and in a better position to be a leader at Penske Racing.”
Although Allmendinger hasn’t had much time working with the team or his new teammate, he’s already connected with Keselowski due in great deal to the two sharing similar backgrounds.
“The biggest thing for me is I look at Brad and he's a true racer,” Allmendinger said. “He's come up from a racing family. He's worked hard to get to this point. And something that I saw, which was pretty amazing, was the middle of the year where he was at to the end of the year and how much him and this organization stepped up their game and really worked well together and made their race cars better.”
Allmendinger, who started the year with a Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona win last month, has made great strides in his Sprint Cup career the last two seasons when he drove for Richard Petty Motorsports.
However he wasn’t able to get over the hump and break into victory lane last year despite finishing a career-best fifteenth in the Sprint Cup standings.
When the opportunity to take the seat of Penske’s No. 22 Dodge to replace Busch arose, Allmendinger did not hesitate to answer the call.
He realizes there’s a lot of work to be done but Allmendinger is confident he was the right man for the job.
“I'm coming into a race team that's got a lot of momentum, an organization that's got a lot of momentum from a great solid year,” Allmendinger said. “So I feel like the race cars are going to be pretty good. It's more about myself and (crew chief) Todd (Gordon) and the race team gelling, and the quicker we can do that, the better we can be early on.
“And really when the season starts, you've just got to be solid .... You can't put yourself in a hole. So I think that's going to be a big thing for us is just to try to gel together as quick as possible.”
Enthusiasm is high at Penske who again remains the only full-time Dodge team in the Sprint Cup stable.
But even though last year’s successful campaign provided a foundation the team hopes to build on in 2012, it will remain a challenge to remain a factor in a highly-competitive Sprint Cup Series that produced eighteen different winners a year ago.
“We’ve got to work hard, work smart,” Keselowski said. “This sport is a constant moving target. The only way that you’re going to continue to hit it is to fire a lot of bullets at the target and keep reloading.
“We’ve got a lot to do over the next few months as a company and as a team. We’ve got to make it happen, got to get stuff done. If we can do that, we can come back and not only repeat this year, but have a shot at the title."
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