NASCAR: Team Penske strong on 1.5-mile tracks

When it comes to finding Victory Lane this season, the Sprint Cup Series’ 1.5-mile tracks have been a panacea for Team Penske.

Brad Keselowski’s first win of the 2014 season came in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Teammate Joey Logano’s first win came one month later at Texas Motor Speedway.

Together, Keselowski and Logano have combined to win five of the nine races held on 1.5-mile speedways this season.

Visits to two such tracks remain: Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 and the season finale Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the series champion will be crowned.

That’s good news for Keselowski and Logano’s championship hopes.

“Having that mile-and-a-half speed and two-mile speed, we had that last year and it plays into our motors,” Logano said.

“I think our motor package is better on the bigger tracks at the higher RPM and we have done a lot of working on getting them better on the short tracks and that has shown this year, too.”

First, however, they have to get there.

If the Penske drivers hope to both compete for the title, they’ll likely meet having taken vastly different paths.

Keselowski leads the series with six victories this season but he will almost assuredly need another if he is to have a chance to win his second Cup series championship.

A pit road speeding penalty followed by a broken rear end gear left Keselowski with a 31st place finish last weekend at Martinsville, Va. He left the track last in points among the eight remaining Chase drivers and in great danger of being among the next four drivers eliminated following next weekend’s race at Phoenix.

A win in either of the next two races, however, would guarantee him one of the four berths in the championship race.

Keselowski didn’t help his cause by failing to advance out of Round 1 of knockout qualifying on Friday and will start 26th on Sunday. It’s his worst start on a non-restrictor-plate track this season.

“I am trying to be fast when it counts. We weren’t fast (in qualifying) ... but I am very optimistic we can be fast on Sunday when it does count,” he said.

“We are working through all those things. We came here and tested and didn’t quite have the speed we wanted in qualifying trim then, either, but had decent race speed and hopefully that will be the case come Sunday.”

Logano and Keselowski tested at Texas in late September and completed a two-day test at Homestead earlier this week.

Keselowski has already faced one do-or-die moment in the Chase. The only way he could advance to Round 3 of the Chase was with a victory at Talladega, Ala., two weeks ago, which he accomplished.

This time, though, Keselowski has two such chances to advance, although Texas seems the far more likely option.

“It’s not impossible,” he said, “and we’ve got the team to pull it off.”

Logano came out of Martinsville in a much better position – he is among the top four in points among the remaining Chase drivers.

With a victory in the spring race at Texas and a record of six top-five finishes in the seven Chase races held thus far, Logano is in strong position to have a chance at the championship even if he doesn’t win one of the next two races.

Another win remains Logano’s preferred choice to advance, however.

“I don’t think you can feel comfortable unless you have a win under your belt. That is the only way you will feel comfortable otherwise you are pulling your hair out to Phoenix,” he said.

“We have to execute. The only way we will feel comfortable is if we win the race.”

So far this season, that outcome – particularly on 1.5-mile tracks – has been almost as easily done as said.

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