What’s Happening?

Continuing with our season preview, we look at the always-consistent Team Penske. The three-car team consists of veterans Joey Logano in the No. 22 and Ryan Blaney in the No. 12, along with the still-young Austin Cindric in the No. 2. All three head into the new season with the same high expectations as always.

  • Blaney won the championship in 2023 with a great playoff run ending with a clinching second-place finish in Phoenix. Can he keep his hot streak carrying over to the new year?
  • Logano was disappointed with a Round of 16 exit after crashing out at the elimination race in Bristol. With only one win last season at the Spring Atlanta race, can he find victory lane multiple times this season?
  • Cindric had a lackluster sophomore year, which was always going to be hard to top after winning the Daytona 500 in his rookie season. Can he tune up his race craft to celebrate in victory lane with Penske executive and his dad Tim Cindric this season?

Logano and No. 22 expectations

The 2022 defending champion had an off-year by his standards, with only one win, 11 top-fives, and 17 top-10s. With odd-number years seeming to throw off Logano, it surely means he will be back in the championship mix this year!

Three things to look for this season

While Logano will have his typical yellow look with Shell Pennzoil, he also managed to grab a new sponsor for this season. It is none other than Hunt Brothers Pizza, coming over from Stewart-Haas Racing and Kevin Harvick. While there may be time to get used to a green No. 22, will the influx of a new sponsor and cash help his on-track performance?

Part of Logano’s struggles last season came in his finishes. He had seven finishes 30th or worse, ultimately hurting his chances and ending his playoff chances in the Bristol Night Race. Can veteran Crew Chief Paul Wolf help coach Logano to better race finishes and improve his playoff chances down the line?

Finally, as is the case for all Ford drivers, how will Logano fare with the new Ford Mustang body this season? Looking back at when Ford changed their body to the original Mustang in 2019, Logano had just won the championship the previous season. But the following year, he managed fewer wins and fewer top-10s with a Round of 8 exit. Can he and Wolf get started on the right foot with a new body this time around?

Cindric and No. 2 expectations

Cindric went through a major sophomore slump last season in his second full-time year. He had only one top five, and five top-10s and missed the playoffs with a 24th-place points finish. With an average finish of 21st, he never had much of a shot and could be seen as similar to his rookie season – even though he won the Daytona 500 then. His most memorable moment all season probably came during a rain delay during the drivers-only broadcast in Charlotte.

Three things to look for this season

Seven finishes outside the top 30 – with five of them coming in the last 11 races – did not help Cindric’s case at the end of the 2023 season. He started the year okay, but couldn’t find consistency to match his qualifying efforts. After qualifying in the top 10 in seven of the first 10 races, he only qualified in the top 10 three more times the rest of the season, ultimately hurting his finishes. Can he qualify better to help his finishes this season?

With the sophomore slump Cindric went on, it’s expected for him to bounce back in a good Penske ride. Otherwise, a target could be on his back if he fails to succeed in his third year. Can Cindric live up to the hype and take on the pressure of rebounding after a sophomore slump?

Finally, part of Cindric’s struggles towards the end of last season was with a new Crew Chief, Brian Wilson. He switched with Jeremy Bullins and Wood Brothers midway through last season. With Wilson now having Cindric be his driver for a full year, can they work together well to rebound this season?

Blaney and No. 12 expectations

Lastly in the Team Penske camp is none other than the defending Cup Series champion, Ryan Blaney. Blaney’s playoffs got hot, earning him wins at Talladega and Martinsville eventually leading to his championship in Phoenix. It was all part of a three-win season – including a Coca-Cola 600 win – along with eight top fives and 18 top 10s.

Three things to look for this season

The biggest critique for Blaney last season was his average finishes being amongst the worst in a champions season. He averaged 14th all year long, the worst since his 2018 season along with his number of top fives. Hence, will Blaney back up his championship season with better finishes all season long?

When looking at specific races last season, Blaney had most of his success on superspeedways and short ovals. Despite his Coke 600 win, the lack of consistency at longer oval tracks hurt his chances at competing towards the top of the standings all year long. Like many other Ford teams, can Blaney and Crew Chief Jonathan Hassler build a better oval car and compete for more wins?

Finally, there’s no conversation with the defending champion without talking about the possibility of him defending his title. As mentioned earlier, he had the worst average finish in series history and “lucked out” according to some. Yet, the optimism for Blaney remains bigger than ever, talking about making the patch on his firesuit say 2x champion. Hence, can Blaney defend his title, and go back-to-back for the first time since Jimmie Johnson in the 2000s?