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Penske pleased with Keselowski's growth

November 11, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Roger Penske has seen Brad Keselowski win eight races and make back-to-back Chase appearances these past two years. (Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Minutes before Sunday's drivers' meeting at Phoenix International Raceway, team owner Roger Penske fielded questions about Brad Keselowski, the ongoing championship battle with Hendrick Racing and being oh, so close to his first NASCAR title.

"If anything comes out of this season, it's the respect that Brad Keselowski has in the garage area now as one of the best in the business."

--ROGER PENSKE

"When you're racing what I say is the gold standard -- against Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus and the Hendrick organization -- it's a pleasure to be at the top," said Penske, after assisting in the presentation of specially-equipped Dodge vehicles to paralyzed veterans.

"We're seven points behind. That's a big number to beat, but a lot can go on at this mile race track. It goes down to the last race [next week at Homestead-Miami], hopefully."

Penske believes he has the right driver and has provided him all the tools necessary to prevail. Keselowski is driving a new chassis this week and will also have a new car, specially prepared for Homestead.

"The cream has really come to the top," Penske said. "[Brad] was controversial when he first came with us three years ago. Most important, if anything comes out of this season, it's the respect that Brad Keselowski has in the garage area now as one of the best in the business.

"He's had his head together all season. He's focused. I think he's a tougher competitor today than he was at the beginning of the season. He's got confidence. [When it comes to] driving, he's looking out the window. He's not just looking at the car in front of him. He and Paul [crew chief Wolfe] are thinking: What's the strategy? They've got a game plan. So, I think he's upped his game in a number of areas."

* RaceDay: Penske on what Keselowski means to his team

More of Penske's pre-race thoughts Sunday:

On Keselowski: "He's not afraid to lay it down, as you saw when he and Jimmie raced wheel-to-wheel last week. I thought that was great racing -- and the fact that he had the guts to go back in that winner's circle and shake the hand of Jimmie Johnson shows what kind of person he is."

On Rick Hendrick: "When you can be racing Rick Hendrick for the last two races of the championship, you'd have to say we're right where we want to be. I have a high level of respect for him and his organization. He's a great friend and a quality guy. He's a great businessman and, obviously, he and I have similar aspirations in the auto side of the business. He's a competitor. He's shrewd. He knows what he's doing. For one thing, he's attracted the best people in the garage area and that's why he's been a winner.

On his relationship with Dodge: "We had to make that announcement [to switch to Ford in 2013] early on because Ford needed to know whether we'd be with them. Dodge has been very supportive. I think our relationship, quite honestly, has never been better and, hopefully, they'll re-think NASCAR and in '14 and be back."

How the thrill of winning the Sprint Cup would rank: "I think it would be right at the top. We came close in '93. We finished second, third in '94. I can't even remember how many years ago that was with Rusty [Wallace]."

On the difference this year: "[In the past], we haven't been good enough. Quite honestly, we haven't been able to deliver. ... In this business, you've got to be consistent. It's not about winning every race. It's about those top-fives and top-10s that make a difference. That's one thing we've done a better job at this year, when you look at the consistency of the No. 2 car .... It's about people. I think it's about commitment. I think our focus today with Mike Nelson and Travis Geisler taking over as the people overall responsible for our NASCAR effort has made a big difference. We've been good in the past but never able to close the deal."

On the future of Penske and remaining a two-car team: "I think we've got some real depth in our organization now, which is going to keep us competitive in the future. I think one of our strengths right now is that we're two cars. We can make changes faster. We can give both teams the information and equipment they need. Look, it is what it is. They'll be lots of teams with multiple cars. But in our case, we're going to run two. With [Joey] Logano and Brad for the future -- and all businesses are about today and the future -- we're trying to have the long-term look."

About Sam Hornish's role in the organization: "Sam will run a full schedule for us in the Nationwide and have selected races he'll run on the Cup side. It's a great chance for him to focus next year. He's been jumping back and forth and he's excited to continue with us."

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