2021 Team Preview: Team Penske and Wood Brothers Racing

Graphic by Joe Passero

TEAM PENSKE

2020 was another incredibly strong year for Team Penske, who got all three of their drivers in victory lane at least once and occupied two of the four spots in the championship four. Penske drivers collected eight wins total, including four of the first nine races. The start and end to the season for Penske teams were strong, but their three drivers were relatively quiet through July and August.

Even with the successes Team Penske had in 2020, they could have had a much better season in some respects and a much worse season in others. To win the 2021 Cup Series championship, each of the three drivers and their teams who drive Penske Fords will have to improve in one way or another. If all three drivers are able to improve, Team Penske will be a serious force in the upcoming season.

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford Mustang

Photo credit:  Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

2020: 36 starts, 4 wins, 13 top-fives, 24 top-10s, 0 poles, 952 laps led, 2nd in points

Career: 413 starts, 34 wins, 128 top-fives, 210 top-10s, 17 poles

Brad Keselowski’s career in Cup Series racing peaked early with a NASCAR Cup Series championship back in 2012, which was just his third season as a full-time driver in the division. Ever since then, however, Keselowski hasn’t captured NASCAR’s top prize. He’s been close, and 2020 was the closest Keselowski has been to getting back to the top. He led his Penske teammates with four wins, including NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.

Keselowski was strong at short tracks, dominating at New Hampshire (which drives like a short track) and Richmond. He used the chassis he dominated those two events in at Phoenix after advancing to the championship four, but came up short of the championship by one spot.

Keselowski is perfectly capable of winning another championship,but he needs to perform more like he did in the latter months of 2020. While he was consistent in the first half of the year, he had the element of luck on his side at Charlotte and Bristol when he won. While luck is needed to win, those two wins were reliant on luck.

The writer’s prediction: Keselowski will win in 2021, no questions asked. I can’t imagine that Penske is going to let him go when his contract expires at the end of the season. Keselowski will be in the playoffs and will sail into the round of eight in what I expect to be a very consistent season for bad Brad.

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford Mustang

Blaney wins at Talladega after NASCAR publicly backs Wallace | Grand Forks Herald
Photo credit: John David Mercer/USA TODAY Sports

2020: 36 starts, 1 win, 11 top-fives, 17 top-10s, 0 poles, 668 laps led, 9th in points

Career: 198 starts, 4 wins, 38 top-fives, 76 top-10s, 6 poles

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted NASCAR’s season after four races, Ryan Blaney looked like he was on track to have a breakout season. He had legitimate chances to win twice, and even though he continued to be strong throughout the season, the spark that lit the competitive flame for the first part of the season died by the time the playoffs were underway.

Unlike his formerly mentioned teammate, Blaney had the worst luck of the Penske teammates in 2020. A caution with just a few laps left at Las Vegas cost him a potential win in the season’s second race. The following week, he lost a tire in the closing laps while running second. He was fast at Bristol a few races later before he was involved in an accident while running up front. His luck was used up at the finish of the first Talladega race when he beat Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. by less than a foot.

Quite honestly, Blaney and his crew just need better luck to become more competitive at the end of the races. They had great cars for much of the season, and it was quite shocking when Blaney was eliminated after the first round of the playoffs. Bad luck can take a massive toll on a team, and that’s what happened to Blaney last season.

The writer’s prediction: Ryan Blaney is going to win a race in 2021 to lock himself into the playoffs. His 2021 campaign will be about building momentum and consistency which will help him have a career breakout season in 2022.

Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford Mustang

NASCAR fans try to diminish Joey Logano's win at Kansas: 'This isn't racing' | Sporting News
Photo credit: Getty Images

2020: 36 starts, 3 wins, 12 top-fives, 21 top-10s, 0 poles, 939 laps led, 3rd in points

Career: 435 starts, 26 wins, 128 top-fives, 221 top-10s, 22 poles

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced sports to shut down, Joey Logano appeared to be the championship favorite for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series. He won twice in the first four races, including a win at Phoenix where the championship race was held later in the year. He also captured a win in one of the two pre-season Daytona 500 qualifying races, further solidifying his threat-level among the competition. However, Logano was fairly quiet after NASCAR returned and through the summer months like his teammate, Brad Keselowski. 

Around the time that the playoffs began, Logano became more of a threat, lingering around the front of the field. It culminated to a win at Kansas in the penultimate round of the playoffs which earned him a spot in the championship four for the fourth time.

While Logano had a good season, he needs to run up front more constantly and be more competitive for wins throughout the season if he wants to grab a second series championship.

The writer’s prediction: Joey Logano will have a better overall year than he did in 2020 now that he and his new crew chief, Paul Wolfe, know how to communicate better. The win tally may not increase or decrease, but they should click off more top-five and top-10 finishes.

WOOD BROTHERS RACING

The Wood Brothers is a family-owned-and-operated race team based out of Stuart, Virgina. They’ve raced since the pioneer days of the sport when brothers Glen and Leonard Wood founded the team. The team has fielded cars for some of the most notable names in stock car racing, such as Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Neil Bonnett, Bill Elliott and David Pearson. The Wood Brothers Racing team is also credited for the invention of the modern pit stop.

The days of glory for the Wood Brothers were long gone until they formed a technical alliance with Team Penske and brought on Ryan Blaney full-time in 2016. Blaney captured the Wood Brothers’ 99th NASCAR Cup Series win in 2017, and while they’ve come close, they haven’t gotten to 100 yet. 2021 could be the year to change that.

Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Ford Mustang

Matt DiBenedetto Earns Signature Moment, Makes NASCAR Playoffs
Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

2020: 36 starts, 0 wins, 3 top-fives, 11 top-10s, 0 poles, 91 laps led, 13th in points

Career: 212 starts, 0 wins, 6 top-fives, 22 top-10s, 0 poles

Matt DiBenedetto had the most competitive year in his young career in 2020 driving for the Wood Brothers. He got closer to winning than ever before by finishing second in both races at Las Vegas and had other noteworthy performances at Kentucky and Talladega.

DiBenedetto has just a year left with the Wood Brothers, as it has already been announced that Austin Cindric will take over the famed no. 21 car in 2022. So, for yet another season, Matt DiBenedetto will be fighting for his racing life, which is when he does his best work.

The writer’s prediction: Matt DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers are not a championship caliber team, but they’re moving towards that. In 2021, DiBenedetto will get his first career win and the 100th for his hall-of-fame team.

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