Dry spells in the desert are commonplace, even for an organization such as Team Penske, which enters Sunday’s race weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix with momentum pushing it along.
The Roger Penske-owned outfit charges into Sunday’s Ticket Guardian 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) having won eight of the last 15 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, dating back to late last season. The most recent was defending series champ Joey Logano’s triumph last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, giving the Penske group two quick-hit wins in the first three races of 2019.
Penske cars have led a series-best 223 of the 799 laps contested this season, but the 1-mile Arizona oval that’s next up on the schedule historically has been a tricky venue for the three-car operation. Logano won there as recently as 2016, but Penske’s only other premier-series victory at Phoenix came well back in 1998 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. More recent struggles also abound, with Team Penske netting just one top-10 finish in the last three Phoenix races.
If there’s reason for Phoenix optimism besides the early season headway, it’s found in qualifying performance. All three Team Penske drivers have won pole positions at ISM Raceway, and Logano’s average starting spot of 5.9 ranks as the best in the series over the last 10 races.
Inspecting Team Penske’s average finish over the same span yields more ordinary results. Penske’s Brad Keselowski ranks fourth among active full-time Monster Energy Series drivers with a 10.3 average finish in the last 10 Phoenix races, but Logano sits 10th and Ryan Blaney, who joined Team Penske last season, in 15th.
The driver they’ll all be chasing is likely Kevin Harvick, a nine-time Phoenix winner who has dominated in recent trips to the Grand Canyon State. In the last 10 ISM Raceway events, Harvick has not finished outside the top 10, possesses a remarkable 2.7 average finish and has led more than twice as many laps as his closest competitor (1,105 vs. Kyle Busch’s 435 laps led).
Logano clings to a slim lead through three races in the Monster Energy Series standings, holding a six-point edge over Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. Busch and Harvick are tied for third, 12 points off the top. Keselowski is close by in fifth place, and Blaney sits 15th, aiming to get his season on track after finishes outside the top 20 in the first three starts of 2019.
Sunday’s 312-lap race is the culmination of a busy weekend for Team Penske. The operation will tackle Saturday’s Xfinity Series race (4 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM), where its No. 22 team has an average finish of 3.4 in the last 10 Phoenix races. Also, Team Penske’s three-driver fleet of Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power will head to the Streets of St. Petersburg for Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series opener.
Note: Just six drivers have finished on the lead lap in all three Monster Energy Series races this season. Race winners Denny Hamlin (Daytona) and Brad Keselowski (Atlanta) are among them, topping a list that also includes Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson.