Monday, April 22, 2013

Penske's Best: Donohue, Mears and...Keselowski (!?!)

There it was in a story by Jim Pedley of (link below), covering the trials and tribulations of Penske Racing at Kansas this past weekend.

Most stories from Kansas carried reports on Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and the team.  They had dominated racing news the previous week and then had an eventful race.  Most quoted Keselowski and Logano.

Pedley dug deeper, talking afterward to Walt Czarnecki, team vice president and Penske’s longtime right hand man.  Czarnecki was in Kansas watching over the team while Penske was in Long Beach, Calif., for the IndyCar race.

It was a good story.  But the lede was buried.  Near the end of the article, in the 25th of 27 paragraphs to be exact, Czarnecki talked about Keselwoski’s ability to focus on the race with everything else swirling around.  This quote jumped out at me.

Mark Donohue
“Roger and I have been together for 40 years,” Pedley quoted Czarnecki as saying. “And I would say (Keselowski) ranks right there with Mark Donohue and Rick Mears. Rick was one of those guys, too, early in his career where he could be a lap down and he’d say, ‘OK, keep working on it, we’re going to keep getting it better, keep getting it better.’ He just always kept his head. And Brad keeps his head.”


Perhaps it was the euphoria of the moment.  It was an impressive performance by Keselowski and the entire Penske team.  Remarkable really.  Czarnecki said it was one of the top three or four performances ever by the team.

Note that Czarnecki put Keselowski on a par with two IndyCar champions.  Not NASCAR Hall-of-Famers Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace who also drove for Penske Racing.  Not the other IndyCar drivers who ran for Penske (and Czarnecki) and apparently don’t rise to the Donohue/Mears/Keselowski level, including, oh, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Al Unser, Jr., Tom Sneva, Danny Sullivan, Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy, Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves.

Nope, Czarnecki said Mark Donohue and Rick Mears.  
Rick Mears

You could make an argument that Donohue, a graduate from Brown University with a degree in mechanical engineering, was the smartest, most focused racing driver – ever.  He co-wrote a book about it, called The Unfair Advantage.  He joined Penske in 1966, shortly after Roger gave up driving and started entering race cars.  He won Penske Racing’s first NASCAR race, at Riverside in 1973, but was really a road racer, winning and often dominating the United States Road Racing Championship, Trans-Am and Can-Am, titles.  He also won Penske’s first Indy 500 in 1972.  He died following an accident in a Penske-owned grand prix car in 1975.

A list of the Top 10 America drivers of all-time would have Mears on it.  He has a record-sharing four Indy 500s victories (long with A. J. Foyt and Al Unser) and came within 0.16 of a second of winning a fifth.  He has more Indy 500 pole positions than any other driver and is a three-time IndyCar series champion.  He retired at 41 in 1992 and is still a part of Penske Racing as a driver's coach.  He's also the uncle of NASCAR regular Casey Mears.

So when Czarnecki compares Keselowski to Donohue and Mears, that's saying something.  Ok, he wasn't putting Keselowski on the same level as a racing driver (at least I hope not, not yet), but to be compared to those drivers on any level is quite a compliment.

Readers of my blog know that I like Keselowski – a lot.  He is certainly one of the best stock car drivers today and his candor and freshness may help save this sport, if NASCAR lets him.

But Donohue and Mears?!? 

Hey, who am I to argue?  What do you think?

The Races:  If you saw the Las Vegas Sprint Cup race you saw the Kansas race, Matt Kenseth holding off a closing Kasey Kahne for the win.  The biggest story: Matt Kenseth was the third straight driver to win from the pole, which hasn’t happened since 1985.  If Kenseth continues to dominate on the mile-and-a-half tracks, it could be a long year for the competition…Any NASCAR driver in need of a tutorial on blocking should watch a replay of the Bahrain Formula One race.  If it wasn’t for the dramatic blocking moves throughout, beginning with the first turn of the first lap, it wouldn’t have been much of a race either.  Sebastian Vettel won, moving past Jackie Stewart on the all-time F1 winner’s list with 28…Takuma Sato got his first IndyCar win at Long Beach and the gave A. J. Foyt Racing its first win since 2002.  Sato ran well at Long Beach last year and then made a real impression in the Indianapolis 500 when he crashed trying to pass Dario Franchitti for the lead on the last lap.  But then he crashed more often than not the rest of the year.  He appears to be for real this year – and is helping to restore Foyt's team.  Foyt himself missed the race, slated for back surgery this week.



  1. I think Brad Keselowski is the most underrated driver in NASCAR. This guy is a thinker and calm when under pressure. I don't care for alot of his outward behavior, but watching him during last year's championship run, you could tell he had something special. It's amazing that most refuse to look beyond his appearance. The championship was no fluke for this team.

  2. I saw Mark race a number of times in Trans Am races held just est of Tulsa OK in the late 60's, along with the likes of Parnelli Jones, George Folmer and Peter Revson. He was like a "machine" in placement, line and consistency! Miss those early days...