In addition to winning the opening two rounds of the season and three of the four pole positions, the No. 12 Verizon team has been a huge benefit to us. We took a hard look at our personnel over the winter and really focused on putting the right guys in the right spots rather than simply moving the Grand-Am team to the No. 12 Indy car. Our early season success is really a credit to everyone's efforts and it is really satisfying to see how quickly Dave Faustino, Will's engineer, has fit in at Penske. He has the right personality, demeanor and approach and he's become a key person in our organization in a very short period of time.
Credit should also go to Will Power for being on top of his game after his long rehabilitation. We joke that maybe all of those days and nights on his back gave him a mental edge over the others.
Whenever someone dominates the way that he has in the first four events, especially when you drive for Roger, there are some people who will look for reasons to discredit them. I think you could've given him anyone's suspension setup in St. Pete and the results would've been similar, as he is simply that good at that type of track.
As is often the case, people tend to try to point to some “unfair advantage” when it comes to our program. After the first few races, people were questioning our anti-roll bar setup even though it has been in existence, on our cars and many of our competitors', since road and street course racing was introduced to the IndyCar Series, and we certainly hadn't seen this type of success until Will showed up. So I guess you could say he is our “unfair advantage” at these tracks because he can only drive one car at a time.
On to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It doesn't get much better than what we accomplished at Bristol, watching Brad and Justin dueling for the win in the closing stages. It's always difficult to watch your team's cars race each other that hard but they raced each other clean and I think the 1-2 finish showed how respectful they have become as teammates. Brad and Justin realize that to win the championship, they're going to have to work together and that they're a lot stronger together than they are apart. Last year, in different teams, they probably would've figured out a way to run into each other, but this time they gave each other just enough room and just enough respect.
To see Justin, from his humble beginnings, score his first Nationwide win and get that monkey off of his back was a really rewarding moment for all of us. There's no one more deserving than him. It was also fantastic to see Verizon get a chance to really activate their sponsorship. In 2009, we weren't able to get any of our No. 12 Verizon cars in Victory Lane, but Will and Justin's results in March meant we gave Verizon three wins in consecutive weekends! It's exciting for us to see how appreciative they are with the full-page ads in USA Today and another in Justin's home paper in Illinois. That's the kind of sponsorship and support our sport needs.
At Nashville, we looked like we had the car to beat but came up a bit short, and then came Phoenix and Texas. From a pure enthusiast's point of view, Phoenix was a great event to watch, but for us it seemed like a missed opportunity. Brad Keselowski's No. 22 Discount Tire car had battled Kyle Busch up front all night and when the last stop came around, we ended up too deep in our pit box because of the pit lane traffic and it put us in a difficult position to change the left-side tires without losing a lot of time. Recognizing this, (crew chief) Paul Wolfe made a good call in this situation to go with a two-tire change. Unfortunately, it meant that Brad was out there with just two fresh tires trying to hold off guys with four. It was exciting to watch and Brad drove the wheels off of it but came up just short in our attempt to win at the home track for Discount Tire, our partner. Although it was short lived after Texas, we did leave with the points lead and as Brad says, “that is something to be proud of.”
With regard to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, we are still pushing to improve the numbers on the board but things haven't gone our way too often. We have shown signs of improvement in many areas. Kurt is solid in the points and we are focused on getting Brad and Sam Hornish Jr. into the top 20 in points by the time we leave the Charlotte 600. Sam has really stepped up in qualifying as he was on the front row in Texas and third in Phoenix. Brad had a top-10 car in Phoenix but got caught up with Tony Stewart and Martin Truex Jr. while trying to run three-wide off of Turn 2. Kurt was as strong as he's ever been in Martinsville and had a great opportunity to win there and ran a smart race in Texas to come home fourth.
So I think, from an overall standpoint, we're definitely much better than we were in 2009 – and we have run better than our point standings show, as Kurt has led more laps than anyone at this point. We just have to focus on getting good results each and every week. That much never changes in racing.
I'll get back to you next month as I'm sure we will have quite a few interesting topics to discuss. Thanks for reading.