The Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing NASCAR teams had themselves quite a solid weekend in this weekend’s The Profit on CNBC 500.
Both teams had past experience in knockout-style qualifying with their IndyCar programs. And while NASCAR’s first crack at it wasn’t going to be identical, there were enough similar elements for them to know when to make their runs and set times.
Penske nailed it doubly so, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano locking out the front row. For good measure, Keselowski added the pole for Saturday’s Nationwide race as well.
“We had a really fast car, and there is some pride to be taken in being the first one to win a Sprint Cup pole in this format,” Keselowski said after Cup qualifying. “I am sure it will undergo a few adjustments along the way, but it is very rewarding and a testament to my team and how fast of a car they gave me.”
In some respects, their finishing third and fourth was a disappointment. But for Keselowski, it’s his second third-place finish in as many races to open the season, and for Logano, it was his best finish on the reconfigured Phoenix track (finished third in fall 2010 on the old configuration).
Logano went for it on several restarts, with good pushes of Harvick, but couldn’t get any closer.
As for Ganassi’s squad, much was made of the addition of new crew chief Keith Rodden to Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet, which was a consistent top-five to top-10 performer all weekend.
Rodden, an ex-Hendrick Motorsports engineer, joined up at the start of the year and with Phoenix less of a lottery than the restrictor-plate race at Daytona, the CGR cars were well-prepared for the Phoenix mile. McMurray qualified third and Kyle Larson seventh, so they also put both cars in the final round of knockout qualifying.
McMurray enjoyed a consistent drive to 10th in the race, while Larson took the necessary bounce back step after his rough Daytona 500 and finished best of the eight rookies in 20th.
“This was a really good day for our Cessna team,” McMurray said. “I felt coming here to Phoenix would be the first real test of the season for where we might be as a team. We were fast all weekend and turned that into a strong finish. I am really proud of all the guys on this team and the effort that they put forth this weekend.”
Added Larson, “Our Clorox Chevy showed good speed today, and my guys did a great job on pit road. We got caught a lap down early in the race on one of the long green flag runs. We battled to get position back on the lead lap, but couldn’t seem to catch a break. Finally with just a handful of laps to go we got the lucky dog, but we just didn’t have enough time to make more a of a charge to the front.”