Dover an important test for Team Penske trio

With Ford winless through 10 races, each week holds greater importance for its drivers as they try to secure spots in the playoffs.

For Team Penske, however, the next race on the schedule is a particularly important test based on past struggles.

The three current Team Penske drivers — Austin Cindric, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano — are all winless in Cup at Dover Motor Speedway, the 1-mile banked concrete track where they will compete Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. ET on FS1).

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Dover could be the right race for Martin Truex Jr. and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates to break their recent top-10 drought.

Cindric has made two starts at Dover since taking over the No. 2 Ford on a full-time basis in 2022. His best finish is 26th last season. Blaney has made 13 starts and has scored one top-five finish. He crossed the line third last season at Dover.

Logano has made 27 starts at Dover. He is winless with a career-best finish of third in 2010, '13 and '18. Logano has not finished better than 29th at Dover in two Next Gen races.

"I feel like Dover is always — at least since I’ve been on the Cup side at Penske — a struggle racetrack for us, for our cars," Blaney said last weekend at Talladega.

"Whatever we do as a group just doesn’t really suit that place as good, so we’ve been really trying a lot of things to try to figure out, ‘OK, what can we do different.’"

The struggles at Dover are not new for team owner Roger Penske. His drivers have combined to make 127 Cup starts at Dover, scoring eight wins, 55 top-10 finishes and 18 DNFs.

Rusty Wallace won three times at Dover in 1993-94. Ryan Newman won three times in 2003-04. Kurt Busch won at Dover in 2011. Brad Keselowski won at Dover in 2012.

The organization has gone winless at Dover since Keselowski's championship season while its drivers have sporadically secured top-10 finishes. Two years ago was a particular low point as Blaney, Cindric and Logano all finished 26th or worse at Dover.

Blaney provided a glimmer of hope in last season's race after the three Penske teams took three different approaches to the race. The goal was to find a setup that would make the entire organization more competitive in future trips.

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While Cindric and Logano finished outside 25, Blaney was in contention throughout the day. He finished third in the first two stages and finished the race in third. This was a marked improvement over his 26th-place finish in 2022.

"Our (No. 12) group just kind of hit it and had a pretty decent day, and (I) was able to run in the top five pretty much the whole day, really all 400 laps around that thing," Blaney said.

"So hopefully, we can take what we learned last year and apply it and be able to string together good runs for all of us."

Building off last season's success could be crucial for the reigning Cup champion and his Team Penske teammates.

Blaney is seventh in the Cup standings and only 57 points ahead of Chris Buescher, the first driver below the playoff cutline. Logano is tied with Buescher with 245 points. Logano holds the final playoff spot.

Austin Cindric is 19th in the Cup standings and only has one finish better than 18th this season. He is 53 points behind Logano and the playoff cutline.

If this trio can take the knowledge gained by Blaney last season and contend for top-10 finishes, they could gain crucial points.

If not, Team Penske could leave Dover looking for answers once again.