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Analysis: Method to Team Penske’s offseason madness?

Team Penske is putting familiar faces in unfamiliar roles.

All three of its crew chiefs will have new drivers in 2020, with all parties remaining in-house. Paul Wolfe moves from Brad Keselowski to Joey Logano, while Todd Gordon moves from Logano to Ryan Blaney and Jeremy Bullins switches from Blaney to Keselowski.

The organization announced the changes late Monday, with about a month to go until the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 16 in Florida, and surely it wasn’t just a luck of the draw who ended up where.

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When looking at last season alone, Logano had the most successful 2019 due to his fifth-place finish in the final standings. Blaney was then seventh, and Keselowski ended up eighth.

But zoom out here. Logano actually had a down season. The driver of the No. 22 Ford was the reigning champion, yet didn’t make the Championship 4. Keselowski, in the No. 2 Ford, matched his 2018 ranking. It was Blaney who improved his year-to-year overall mark by three spots, among other bettered statistics with the No. 12 Ford.

Take a look.

Screen Shot 2020 01 07 At 4.23.26 Pm

So, going back to the recent shake-up, it would make sense to give the driver who is growing overall (Blaney) a crew chief who can further aid in that development (Gordon).

Gordon has eight years — all but one with Logano — in the Cup Series. That’s less than Wolfe’s nine years — again, all with Keselowski — but Gordon has the most recent championship from 2018 and the only Team Penske championship under the current NASCAR Playoffs elimination format (established in 2014, after Keselowski’s 2012 title). Also worth noting is the Wolfe-Keselowski title came in Team Penske’s last year with Dodge, as the organization has fielded Fords since.

Speaking of the postseason, Blaney was the only Team Penske driver to score a checkered flag during the 10-race final stretch (Talladega Superspeedway in the Round of 12). Keselowski’s three wins all came during the opening 12 races. He managed just one runner-up showing afterward. Logano’s pair of victories fell within the first 15 events. He also managed just one runner-up showing afterward.

None of them advanced to the Championship 4. Keselowski got the boot after the Round of 12, while Logano and Blaney got cut after the Round of 8.

Blaney also happened to have the best average playoff finish among his teammates.

Average finish in the NASCAR Playoffs

  1. Ryan Blaney: 11.4 (a win, four top-five and six top-10 finishes)
  2. Joey Logano: 11.8 (two top-five and six top-10 finishes)
  3. Brad Keselowski: 13.7 (four top-five and five top-10 finishes)

That’s not to say the second half of the season matters more than the first — 2019 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch had a 21-race winless drought end at Homestead-Miami Speedway — but it could signify growth. Blaney’s playoff average was better than his season average (13.7), while Logano’s (10.8) and Keselowski’s (12.9) were worse.

Putting Logano with the next-most experienced option in the garage (Wolfe) fits, considering the veteran did bring Team Penske its latest championship. That leaves Bullins for Keselowski, who could possibly use a fresh perspective after nine years with the same pit-box commander and his recent stagnancy.

This could all mean absolutely nothing. Maybe team owner Roger Penske just wants to shake things up; he has been known to in the past. Perhaps there is, in fact, a method to his offseason madness.

Regardless: No risk, no reward.