Despite changes, Penske Racing prepared to defend Cup title

Jared C. Tilton

In spite of winning its first Sprint Cup Series championship, it hasn't been a quiet offseason for Penske Racing, as the team has undergone numerous changes. Whether all these changes will have the desired effect is the focus of Tuesday's NASCAR offseason analysis series.

2012 In The Rearview

On the strength of five victories and a nearly flawless Chase, Brad Keselowski was able to deliver car owner Roger Penske his first Sprint Cup Series championship.

But as Penske Racing's flagship team surged, its second car came nowhere close to matching the same performance level. And not helping matters on this front was AJ Allmendinger's suspension and later firing for a failed drug test, while his replacement, Sam Hornish Jr., had to juggle running both Cup and Nationwide the remainder of the year.

2013 Driver Lineup

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Mille Lite Ford); Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford)

Key Changes

Uncharacteristically for an organization that just won the title, Penske is going through quite a few changes this offseason. Chief among them is the switch from Dodge to Ford, which was made primarily due to Ford's long-term commitment to NASCAR.

Also, after a tumultuous couple of years of dealing with the off-track antics of Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger, Joey Logano has been signed in an effort to provide some much-needed stability for Penske's second car. Logano will be working with Todd Gordon, who will be returning as crew chief for the No. 22 team.

Biggest Offseason Question

The changeover from Dodge to Ford means that that the team will no longer build its own engines. Instead, the team will receive motors from Roush Fenway Racing with the two teams pledging to work closely with each other and share information back-and-forth.

But it has been some time since there has been another team in the Ford camp that can go toe-to-toe with Roush and there are some questions as to whether the relationship is build for the long haul. Case in point, what happens if Penske is winning races while the Roush cars are not? Does the communication between the two teams cease to exist? It's one of the more fascinating subplots of the coming season.

Outlook

Ultimately, how successful 2013 is for Penske hinges on whether the team can make a seamless transition to running Fords. If the team can do so, there is little reason Keselowski can't win back-to-back titles as he is capable of winning on any type of track and the dynamic between he and crew chief Paul Wolfe is second to none.

As for the newest member of the team, Logano, there are two things he needs to do in his first season with Penske.

First, with the events of the last couple of years, he needs to bring some long-term stability to the 22 camp -- a driver they know is going to be there for the long-term. And most importantly, he can't do anything on or off the track which may cause embarrassment to Penske or his sponsors.

Secondly, while he doesn't need to make the Chase, Logano does need to be competitive and show more consistency then he did at Joe Gibbs Racing. Ideally, this means winning a race or two and being in contention for a playoff berth.

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