The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season was the year of Team Penske.
The two-car Ford team was, in the end, the best in the sport. Its drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, combined to win 11 races and ultimately finish fourth (Logano) and fifth (Keselowski) in the final point standings.
But that is hardly the full story.
For most of the season Hendrick Motorsports held sway. The four-car team was in front, or near the front, of the point standings for the majority of the season.
After Atlanta, one race before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Richmond, Hendrick teams claimed three of the top five in the point standings, with Jeff Gordon in first followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in second and Jimmie Johnson fifth.
The Hendrick foursome claimed 10 victories and, with all drivers in the Chase, there was little reason not to think that one of them would claim the title.
However, Logano was third in points and Keselowski fifth.
Keselowski dominated the last event before the Chase, at Richmond, which moved him to No 1 in points as the “playoffs” began.
He won again at Chicago and scored top-10 finishes at Loudon and Dover to be atop the standings after the first elimination round.
But guess what? In that first round Logano scored three top-five finishes, including a win at Loudon.
Penske was one-two in points with Keselowski in the lead. Hendrick drivers Johnson, Earnhardt Jr. and Gordon, were fourth, sixth and seventh, respectively.
As has been reported often, the end for three of the Hendrick teams came at Kansas, the first race of the second elimination round.
Kasey Kahne finished 22nd, Earnhardt Jr. 39th after mechanical problems and Johnson 40th after he was involved in a multicar accident.
Their chances for survival quickly took a big hit, something not unusual in the new Chase format.
Keselowski didn’t fare much better. He wound up 37th and after the race, he, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson were at the bottom of the 12-man ranking. Only eight would move on.
But consider this: Logano won at Kansas, which meant he would safely advance to the next round. Penske teams won five three of the first five Chase races and finished second in another.
However, while Logano was atop the standings Keselowski was scrambling for his life.
He had only two races to save himself – and that he did with a victory at Talladega. He advanced and was eighth among the competitors who did so. Consider that Penske won four of six Chase races. At the same time Hendrick had only one winner -Gordon – and three of its drivers were no longer in the Chase.
In the end, it wasn’t to be for Penske. Hendrick won the next two races with Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson.
Going into the third round, at Phoenix – the one that would determine the championship finalists – Logano was first in points and Keselowski seventh and holding on.
Keselowski didn’t make it to Homestead. Logano did and was second in points.
It evolved that Kevin Harvick won at Homestead, as he did at Phoenix, and became he 2014 champion.
Logano, in the hunt at Homestead for most of the day, was very disappointed in his final 16th-place finish.
“I screwed up and hit the wall early and we were able to recover then had the mistake on pit road which didn’t give us enough time to recover from that,” he said. “It is unfortunate.
Execution was our strong point all year and we just didn’t do it at Homestead. For that reason we finished fourth after I think we scored the most points this whole Chase.
“This was an awesome experience. This is the first time I have had a shot at winning a championship and the first time I won more than one race in a season. It has been a spectacular year.”
Keselowski, who wound up a solid third at Homestead, was philosophical about the season.
“The fastest car all season – Kevin (Harvick) – won the championship,” he said. “I think that is right. We had the most wins and finished seventh.
“You can argue every case for a championship scenario but the reality is that we all knew what it took to win going in and Kevin and his team did it.”
But it must be said that what Team Penske – Logano and Keselowski – did was very admirable.
Eleven victories in 2014 joined by 33 finishes among the top five and 42 among the top 10.
With four cars, twice as many, Hendrick earned 13 wins, 40 top-five finishes and 74 among the top 10.
In seven of the 10 races that made up the Chase, a Penske car was ranked No. 1 in points. A Hendrick car was atop the standings only once.
The highest Hendrick finisher for the season was Gordon, in sixth.
All of this might be, to you, nitpicking.
But I don’t think there is any argument that when it came to the Chase – the time that mattered – Penske was clearly superior.