By Team Ford Racing Correspondent
If the nine Sprint Cup drivers who, in effect, have qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup can be said to be in the catbird seat, then Team Penske would be the Top Cat.
Team Penske’s full complement of drivers -- that is, two (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano) -- has qualified for the Chase with race wins. Logano has won twice, Keselowski once.
Although several other Cup teams have multiple drivers in the Chase group, only Penske has all of its pilots and Ford Fusions on board for the post-season. The advantages of such a status are plenty, but the biggest might be mental – just knowing that no special strategies are needed to bring both drivers into the fold.
Both Keselowski and Logano and their teams can approach this weekend’s All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with clear minds and two purposes -- winning the race and getting in some strong test laps for the Chase.
“It certainly allows you to be a little more aggressive in some situations,” said Travis Geisler, Penske’s competition director. “You really do focus on wins. We’re in a spot now where we’re not super-concerned about giving up a few points. We certainly still want to be as high in points as we can and go in leading the points if we can because it’s a sign your team is doing the best of anybody out there.
“The importance of wins just continues to go up because you really don’t have as much to lose. Having a seat in the playoffs already, you can be very aggressive.”
That counts at the shop, too, not just on track.
“It affects a little of your development cycle at the shop,” Geisler said. “It affects the timing of when you try new things and how that whole process works. You can be a little more aggressive there. I think that’s a nice spot to be in -- both teams are in the same general spot, and that’s very good for planning.”
While some teams with one or more drivers in the Chase are playing with their resources in an attempt to bring other team drivers in, Penske rides in the comfortable spot of being 100 percent Chase-certified.
“Brad had an early win (in the season’s third race, at Las Vegas), then it took a few weeks for Joey to get his first (in Race Seven at Texas),” Geisler said. “There was a lot of conversation about how do we treat one car different from the other during that period. That doesn’t fit our mold very well. We like to have our teams working together and with the same equipment.
“Now that they each have wins, we can go back to how we operate best -- with both teams being equal.”
Penske’s limited testing plans also change.
“We’ll probably tweak testing a little,” Geisler said. “Where we might have gone to Dover or Pocono (June races) and tested, now that we have wins those tracks we might look at later -- maybe Dover (which hosts a Chase race Sept. 28). You can be a little more surgical with decisions on where you want to test.”
Keselowski started the season with a flourish, backing up a pair of third-place finishes with a win in Race Three at Las Vegas. But he has had only one top five since then, while Logano has come on to score two wins and two fourths in the past six races.
“I think any time you’re not running consistently in the top five, you have to take a look at what’s going on and check that everything is in line and you’re making good decisions,” Geisler said. “I think we’ve been fortunate to have the 22 (Logano) kind of consistently running in the top five right now. We know where the speed is. We know our equipment is in decent shape to go out and compete.
“I think [with Keselowski’s team] it’s just a matter of there’s been a little circumstantial stuff and some instances where we just needed to be a little better. We know that. The concern really comes in when both of your teams aren’t running well because then you start worrying about what you have for an overall product. Right now, that’s not the case.”
Indeed, the Penske “overall product” is Chase-bound.