Keselowski and Logano have Penske riding high

jutter@charlotteobserver.comApril 11, 2014 

— As Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano go, so go the fortunes of Team Penske in NASCAR’s premier Sprint Cup Series.

And as the proverb says, “Fortune favors the bold.”

While the organization has had plenty of success in the past – including Keselowski’s Cup championship in 2012 – Penske has already positioned itself to capitalize on what could be its most successful season.

“I think Penske is in the best position it’s ever been in ever except for perhaps having to reduce down to one Nationwide team this season,” Keselowski told the Observer Friday at Darlington Raceway.

“The IndyCar side is really strong. They have three great drivers and they could win any race and definitely a championship. On the NASCAR side, Joey and I are doing really well together. There’s a lot of things clicking.

“I don’t want to make it seem Team Penske hasn’t ever been great, because that’s clearly not the case. I’m just not sure we’ve ever had this many things go right.”

Entering Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Penske is the first multi-car Cup team this season to see all of its drivers visit Victory Lane. Keselowski won last month at Las Vegas, and Logano won last weekend at Texas.

NASCAR’s changes in the offseason to its championship Chase format have made winning races just about the only surefire way to qualify for the 10-race playoff which determines the series champion.

With both of Penske’s teams all but a lock for the Chase, the entire organization can now direct its efforts toward collecting more wins while also preparing for the championship battle ahead.

“I think really it comes down to the testing. We will focus our tests to race tracks in the Chase. That makes the most sense,” Logano said. “Really, when you are at the race track here, we are always trying different things and always trying to see what that next little piece is.

“At the shop, it is about making sure we get our specs right and get some nice new cars ready and get our guns loaded for when the Chase starts.”

Minutes after Logano clinched his victory last weekend at Texas, Keselowski – who was penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road late in the race – was already celebrating the day’s silver lining.

He called Logano’s win “absolutely huge.”

“It allows us to dedicate our approach to Homestead and the Chase races,” he said. “We haven’t burned any of our team tests, and now that we’ve got both cars in the Chase, we can just burn through those on the Chase tracks. That’s a pretty healthy advantage.”

When Keselowski won team owner Roger Penske’s first Cup title in 2012, he did so basically as a one-car operation. His teammate that year, A.J. Allmendinger, was indefinitely suspended by NASCAR in July of that season for failing a drug test.

For the rest of the season, the organization used its Nationwide driver, Sam Hornish Jr., to fill the void.

Keselowski never got the benefit of a full-time teammate also battling for the title. This season, he is virtually assured of doing so.

“I think the company will be healthier, and it will allow us to have more consistent success,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think it will really affect the highs – it really can’t because we’ve already won a championship.

“With the No. 22 team stronger, it will reduce the individual loads and up our net average throughout the year.”

Logano’s successful transition has come as a surprise to many after he had such difficulty getting his Cup career off the ground at Joe Gibbs Racing.

While Keselowski failed to make the Chase last season, Logano did win a race and qualified for the Chase, a career first. Even with his career-best eighth-place finish in the series standings, Logano wasn’t perceived by many fans or media as a title contender entering 2014.

“Yeah, in the offseason all the magazines come out and project where you are going to finish and they had us in 15th, and I was like, ‘Why?’ ” Logano said.

“I have set my goal as proving them wrong and so far, so good.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.

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