The beginning of the season always marks a crucial time for teams as they get to find out if their hard work over the off-season has paid off. For Team Penske, it seems to be as Brad Keselowski has started the year with a third and a fourth while Logano finished fourth last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. The pair of Penske teammates started the race on the front row, as well.
Keselowski hoped that he could run down Kevin Harvick for the win, but that wasn’t possible with how strong the No. 4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet was. Keselowski attributes that to Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers.
“Rodney Childers to me is like a rubber stamp carbon copy of (my) Paul Wolfe,” Keselowski commented. He’s a great crew chief. It was just a matter of time before he got the great combination he excelled with.
“They were really prepared. We saw it all the way through testing, that they were dominant. They showed it when they came to the actual racetrack to race. I would look for big things out of that team. They looked a lot like the 20 car did last year at this time. They have that honeymoon syndrome going on and taking full advantage of it.”
Keselowski’s solid performance surprised some as he wasn’t with regular crew chief Paul Wolfe, due to Wolfe being at home with his wife who was having a baby. Keselowski worked with his Nationwide Series crew chief for today’s race, as well as the No. 2 Sprint Cup Series lead engineer.
“All things considered, I thought they did really well. I was very proud of the effort,” Keselowski commented.
Both Logano and Keselowski were pleased with their performances – but they both wanted more.
“I tried really hard. With the new points structure, the wins mean so much,” Logano said.
“It feels good to run up front, be competitive. Under this system, wins are only things that count,” Keselowski said. “Last year you would have said seconds and thirds are great, but this year they’re not. They’re so-so.”
Drivers know that the new system will see you virtually locked into the Chase if you go can score at least one win – solidly locked in if you can score a pair of wins. That’s why both Keselowski and Logano know that’s what matters as you could be sitting third or fourth after the first 26 races and not make the Chase because of the amount of winners.
The first two races have seen intense racing, which could be contributed to the new Chase format. Though Keselowski says that the intensity is part of the way the car handles now versus a couple years ago.
“You can’t really afford to take a lap off with these cars because you just drive ’em so hard,” he explained. “The cars two, maybe three years ago took a lot more finesse, which in some ways is good, some ways bad, because the finesse, I thought they took a little more skill to drive. Then again, you could also take laps off and the car would reward you for being nice to it for a couple laps, like a dog or something.
“The cars aren’t that way now. I think that makes the racing a little more intense but then also subtracts away from driver skill set, so it’s kind of a tradeoff.”