Just over a month ago it appeared the Penske Racing operation was in danger of falling apart.
Kurt Busch had verbal tirades nearly every weekend, critical of the crew, the engineering and the overall performance of the cars. Teammate Brad Keselowski had not scored his first top-10 finish until Darlington in early May.
Yet, looks can be deceiving.
Penske Racing: 1st, 10th
Heading into the summer stretch, Penske Racing has regrouped and reemerged as a serious threat for the championship. Since Charlotte, Penske Racing has four poles and two victories – including Busch’s win Sunday at Infineon Raceway.
“It's a good feeling to know that the two teams are working as closely together as they ever have,” Busch said. “Knowing that Brad is definitely maturing, seeing him bust off a top 10 at a road course is great.”
That cooperation stretches beyond just the drivers, as engineers and crew chiefs are working closely to keep both teams moving in the right direction.
“Paul (Wolfe) has great ideas,” Steve Addington said of Keselowski’s crew chief. “We sit down in each other's offices for long periods of time and talk about the direction we need to go in. We go to lunch every single day except maybe one of the week and we talk about what direction we need to work in, what we need to work on, to make it better. You have to push for stuff.”
Hendrick Motorsports: 2nd, 7th, 16th, 41st
With some of the best road course racers in their illustrious stable, Sunday’s performance at Sonoma for Hendrick Motorsports was a bit of a surprise. None of the team’s four cars were able to lead a lap, with Jeff Gordon recording the highest finish in second.
That second-place finish was hard-fought, though. Gordon and crew chief Alan Gustafson struggled with the handling of the car throughout the day, but was able to make the right adjustments, stay patient and capitalize when it mattered most.
Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson had an unusually quiet day on the 11-turn road course. Also failing to lead a single lap, Johnson ran in the top 10 for much of the afternoon, but was never able to contend for the win.
Mark Martin produced yet another lackluster performance, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. recorded his second DNF of the season. Earnhardt Jr.’s troubles came when he ran into the back of Brian Vickers on Lap 39. With damage to the radiator, Earnhardt Jr. was forced behind the wall and the team was unable to make repairs.
Roush Fenway Racing: 3rd, 14th, 23rd, 29th
Carl Edwards led the charge for the Roush Fenway brigade, but did so by laying low throughout the afternoon and coming to life at the end of the race. Struggling with the car for much of the weekend, Edwards opted to skip the Nationwide Series race at Road America on Saturday to concentrate on his Sprint Cup Series car. The move paid off as Edwards finished the day in the third spot and extended his point lead.
Richard Childress Racing: 4th, 9th, 17th, 21st
Paul Menard was the fastest of the Richard Childress Racing teammates going into Sunday’s 110-lap race, qualifying in the third spot, but the driver of the No. 27 struggled on the initial start of the race. Falling back in the opening stages, Menard settled in at the 17th spot when the checkered flag flew.
Starting ninth, Clint Bowyer emerged as a top-5 contender throughout much of the afternoon. With a solid car, Bowyer was able to lead one lap and avoid trouble to score a fourth-place finish.
Kevin Harvick used pit strategy to get out front and lead five laps Sunday, finishing the day in ninth.
Like much of the season, Jeff Burton struggled throughout the day, as he was caught up in a few on-track incidents and finished 21st.
Joe Gibbs Racing: 6th, 11th, 37th
Joey Logano started the day off right for Joe Gibbs Racing, bringing the field to the green as the pole sitter. Using the guidance of road course ace Max Papis, Logano was able to run up front for much of the race. The 21-year-old showed he was not about to back down from a fight when he shoved Robby Gordon through the final corner after Gordon threw a big block.
Kyle Busch also had a strong car, but was caught up in a late-race incident between Keselowski and Juan Pablo Montoya. The spin sent Busch back to 15th, but he was able to work his way back to 11th by the time the checkered flag flew.
Also running well in the early stages of the race, Denny Hamlin’s day came to an end when contact with AJ Allmendinger broke the track bar mount. The damage sent Hamlin behind the wall for repairs. Although the team was able to fix the damage, Hamlin finished 37th, 11 laps down.
Richard Petty Motorsports: 5th, 13th
Michael Waltrip Racing: 8th, 24th
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing: 15th, 22nd
Red Bull Racing: 20th, 36th
Stewart-Haas Racing: 25th, 39th