Penske threepeat a potential theme for NASCAR in 2024; Hamlin, Elliott mend from offseason surgeries
Roger Penske achieved something this season the pioneering motorports magnate had never done in his long, accomplished career with back-to-back NASCAR championships.
Ryan Blaney gave Penske consecutive series titles at Phoenix last month after teammate Joey Logano's title-winning run in 2022.
“You win one, and you start all over again,” Penske said. “They don’t give you an extra lap ahead of everybody after you win one. Last year, Joey did a great job, and by the way when you think about it, last year at Phoenix, if you watched it, Ryan was a good wing man. He had a fast car at Phoenix, so we knew that he had the speed.”
That showed throughout this past season as Blaney won three times, including twice in the playoffs and was fastest when it counted most with eight top 10 finishes in the final 12 races.
Blaney was gushing after his championship after starring in a pair of Penske firsts: Winning the Coca-Cola 600 to combine with Josef Newgarden's Indianapolis 500 win on Memorial Day weekend and then earning that NASCAR crown.
“You don’t get to do that often, do something for Roger that he hasn’t done before, and to be able to bring that to him is definitely very special,” Blaney said.
Count on Blaney and Logano to go hard after a Penske three-peat when the season kicks off next season.
A couple of other title contenders in Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott will bear watching after offseason surgeries.
Hamlin had said 2023 was his year before getting eliminated from contention in the next-to-last race of the season. He had shoulder surgery in November that he said was more complicated than expected. Hamlin said it will affect offseason preparations headed into next year.
Elliott had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and he believes he'll be ready for next year. He missed six races in 2023 after injuring his leg snowboarding.
A healthy Elliott should make Hendrick Motorsports as strong as ever. Past champion Kyle Larson and William Byron combined for 10 victories and finished second and third in the series standings.
NASCAR fans will have several new streaming ways to watch after the sport's seven-year media rights deal that includes Amazon, TNT and Max. The new arrangement is worth $7.7 billion when a previously announced $1.1 billion contract with CW is figured in, according to the Sports Business Journal. NASCAR has not detailed the contract's value.
Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing's revival under ex-series champion Brad Keselowski, an owner who helped Jack Roush's once-great program return to prominence this season. The program got drivers Chris Buescher and Keselowski into the playoffs with Buescher winning three races and advancing to the final eight.
Kevin Harvick rode through his final NASCAR season without a victory, despite tributes and remembrances at almost every stop on the circuit. The Stewart-Haas driver came close, winding up second behind William Byron at Darlington in May. Harvick ends his career with 60 wins and a record 14 straight playoff appearances, along with a 2014 series championship.
Ty Gibbs, Joe Gibbs' grandson, was the 2022 Xfinity Series champion and backed that up by winning rookie of the year in his first full Cup Series season driving his granddad's No. 54 car. The 21-year-old Gibbs had nine top-10 finishes this past season with his best showing a fourth at the Roval course in Charlotte last October.
Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 NASCAR champion, thought about stepping out of the cockpit of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing car at age 43 before signing a one-year extension. Several times during the year, Truex sounded like a racer ready to join contemporaries Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and now Harvick outside the NASCAR garage.
ONE TO WATCH
Noah Gragson is getting a second chance after a “like” of a social media post about murdered George Floyd nearly cost him his NASCAR career. The talented 25-year-old spent the past five months working on personal growth and maturity following his dismissal from Legacy Motor Club. He has been signed by Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 10 formerly run by Aric Almirola.
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