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Team Penske off to fast start in 2014

March 11, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com

Team owner Roger Penske: 'The combination of Joey and Brad is super'

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It's been a strong start for Team Penske drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, with only one finish outside the top five after the first three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races of 2014.

Keselowski, Sunday's winner in the Kobalt 400, finished third in the season's first two races, at Daytona and Phoenix, while Logano has logged finishes of 11th, fourth and fourth in the three events. 

No, Team Penske isn't the only multicar team to start off the year strong -- Hendrick Motorsports currently has three teams in the top five -- but the Penske start is impressive just the same.

"The combination of Joey and Brad is super," team owner Roger Penske said after Keselowski swooped in to take the win from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s gas-starved Chevrolet. "When you look at their ages (Keselowski is 30, Logano 23) … they're talking every day. Last night they were going over the changes on their cars.  But even more important, I think (crew chiefs) Todd Gordon and Paul (Wolfe) have really bonded together."

Not only have the group's race results been convincing, but the two teams seem to be the first to take full advantage of the series' new group qualifying format, locking in the front two starting positions both at Phoenix and again this past weekend at Las Vegas.

The fast-out-of-the-gate start isn't unusual for Keselowski, driver of the team's flagship No. 2 Ford, and the 2012 Sprint Cup champion. A year ago, he began the season with four consecutive top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the first eight races.

Logano, on the other hand, started slow, eventually heating up a bit later in the year (he had only three top-five finishes in the first 11 races).

But fortunes turned, and by the time the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup had arrived, Logano was in and Keselowski, less than a year removed from his title, was on the outside.

Points penalties levied after the spring Texas race -- both drivers lost 25 points for rear-end housing issues -- certainly played a role in the organization’s 2013 efforts, but Penske said Sunday that the penalties also served as a rallying call for his group.

"We all had to pull together and say we’re going to move forward out of this," Penske said. "To me, that really set the stage.

"… We're one group. The cars are the same; you can see how well they run, they're qualifying very close together, and I think it's an open book, and to me that makes the difference. So I'm thrilled with where we are, and I think we've got a great runway for us long‑term."

Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief since 2011, said he believes the two Team Penske groups "probably work more closely than anyone in the garage."

"And I think … that's why you see the cars qualifying on the front row together, why we run well when one runs well, and that's key," he said. "With only having two cars, we need to work closely together. When one runs good, the other runs good, and vice versa. That's important to be able to move forward, as tough as this sport is, to be able to have someone to lean on if you're having a bad day or you're off a little bit."

The cars themselves are so identical, he said, "you can take a 22 (of Logano) or a 2 (of Keselowski) and just change the paint scheme on it and bring it to the race track. I don't think there are many teams that can say that. I think that’s a big reason for a lot of the success we've had, and we’ll continue to work that way moving forward and hopefully continue the success."

That "one organization, one team" approach isn’t new -- although on many occasions it's proven difficult for a single organization to field several competitive entries simultaneously. Few car builds are exactly the same, and few drivers like the same feel behind the wheel.

The key going forward, Penske said, is to stay "consistent."

"Joey and Brad have built a great relationship, and believe me, the way (Logano) ran … and came from the back there was strong right at the end," he said. "I think we’re going to see him in Victory Lane, too, so that’s our goal now -- whatever it takes, get him a victory."

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