NASCAR Notebook: Penske penalties piling up

Both Logano and Keselowski racing without crew chiefs, Fords domination at Dega and Earnhardts potential replacement highlight this weeks NASCAR notebook.

Peter Casey—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) celebrates winning the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Earlier this week, Joey Logano learned he would be dealt a major penalty for his car failing post-race inspection. The No. 22 team was penalized for an illegal rear suspension and his win at Richmond was deemed an “encumbered finish.”What’s an encumbered finish, you ask? Well, it’s considered a win that doesn’t count for the driver (Logano, in this case) toward the playoffs. So if Logano were to not finish inside the top 16 in points, his win would not boost him into the postseason. If he makes the postseason, his five playoff points from the win wouldn’t count toward the standings.”What we got in trouble for was something that really didn’t make our car any faster,” Logano said Friday in Talladega. “It wasn’t enough to make it much faster, so, personally inside, I still look at it as a win. Obviously, from the outside we’ve lost all the benefits of the win. We’ve lost the playoff points. We’ve lost a lot of regular points. We’ve lost our crew chief for a couple of weeks. We’ve lost some cash. The penalty is pretty severe. With that being said, it wasn’t like it was a big thing, but the rule is written and it’s black and white.”Logano’s penalty was not the first harsh punishment handed down to Team Penske this season. Earlier this year, Brad Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe was suspended for three races and served with a $65,000 fine after Keselowski’s car didn’t pass inspection at Phoenix.Wolfe will actually serve part of his suspension at Talladega after participating in the last several races, including Richmond. Given the fact that Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief, was also fined $50,000 and suspended two races, Penske will be without both crew chiefs for the next two races before returning in Charlotte.Ford’s superspeedway dominanceWhile one Ford team is having penalty issues, the overall outlook has to be pretty bright heading into Talladega.In the last superspeedway race, Stewart-Haas Racing started off with a bang as Kurt Busch won his only race of the season in the Daytona 500. Since that point, Team Penske has carried the banner for Ford (as usual) with three wins — despite one being encumbered.Busch’s win continued a long line of Ford victories at restrictor-plate tracks. Since the 2011 season, Ford has won at least two races at superspeedway tracks every season, totaling 13 wins in the last 25 over that span.Prior to Busch, Logano and Keselowski won the previous six races for Ford. Kes has won at Talladega in both the Fall in 2014 and Spring in 2016. Logano also has swept the last two Talladega Fall races, but has yet to win in the Spring.Even with much of the focus on Ford and Penske overall for the events that took place in Richmond, don’t expect either to slow down heading into a track where they’ve won four of the last five races.Early favorite to replace Earnhardt emergesThis weekend is a crucial one for the No. 88 team with Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoping to wipe away a season of adversity with a win at Talladega. This week, however, saw a leader in the clubhouse to take over Earnhardt’s seat for next season emerge.That driver was Alex Bowman, according to Steve Letarte of NBC Sports.”I see Rick Hendrick going young,” Letarte said. “I do not think William Byron is the answer in 2018. I think Hendrick understands that drivers need to mature.”We have already seen the struggle of Daniel Suárez this season, who is the Xfinity champion, perhaps getting moved up a little too quickly. I think that can be a detriment to a driver’s career. I have Alex Bowman circled on a piece of paper. I think Bowman is the perfect guy. I don’t mean a five-year contract, maybe a one- or two-year deal.”While it’s easy to cast off Letarte’s thoughts as simply rumors, we might want to consider the source. Letarte was a crew chief at the top level for Hendrick Motorsports from 2005 through 2014, working with Jeff Gordon until 2011, when he made the switch to Earnhardt’s team.Letarte knows a thing or two about how Rick Hendrick’s mind works.But it’s hard to imagine Hendrick wouldn’t pull up Byron from the Xfinity Series considering he did the exact same thing with Chase Elliott. Granted, Elliott was clearly groomed enough for the Monster Energy Cup level, but Byron would be the same age as Elliott if he took over next year.Bowman seems like a great fit considering he drove the No. 88 car in 10 of the final 18 races last year. He’s also ran in 81 total Cup races, 81 more than Byron. Lastly, he has the backing of Earnhardt, which might prove most important in this case.”Alex has done a great job, I’m really happy to see him get an opportunity like this,” Earnhardt said in 2016. “… It’s given him more opportunities to show what he can do. I’ve worked with Alex for about four or five years through JR Motorsports on and off with our Xfinity program, so I believe in him.”While this might not be the opportunity Byron was hoping for early on in his career, there might be another shot coming. Kasey Kahne has missed the playoffs in the last two seasons and is sitting 20th overall in points through nine races this year. Rick Hendrick doesn’t do mediocre.