So far, the expected clash of the titans between Team Penske and Hendrick Motorsports in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup has gone the way of The Captain’s Men.
Yesterday at New Hampshire, Joey Logano joined Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round by earning his fourth win of 2014.
Keselowski also had a solid run too, rallying to finish seventh after a mid-race spin on a day where he and his crew could basically do whatever they wished thanks to their Chase-opening win at Chicagoland.
It’s been a resounding opening statement from both the 2 team of Keselowski and the 22 team of Logano, which are both firing on all cylinders at the right time.
“I’d like to say the 35-inch, 35-ounce bat, they’re swinging it hard,” said Penske Racing vice chairman Walter Czarnecki about his two squads. “We’re trying to give them the resources and they’re doing with it. We’re gratified with where we are.”
From Logano’s perspective, the win on his home track yesterday only bolsters an outfit that was already feeling good heading into the post-season.
“Personally, I consider [New Hampshire] my worst racetrack – terrible to say because it’s my home race track – but I’ve always struggled when I come here,” he said. “To be able to win at your worst racetrack, that makes you feel like you can win anywhere. It’s special to be able to do that.
“The confidence is high at the 22 team right now. All of Team Penske, we all feel like we’ve got some championships to win this year – not only on the Cup side, but the Nationwide side also, and with IndyCar. We’re just trying to catch up to them.”
Meanwhile, the Hendrick camp’s top effort in Loudon was a fifth-place run from Jimmie Johnson. But while Penske has come out strong, HMS has no reason to push the panic button.
They likely would have had three of their drivers in the Top-10 yesterday if not for Jeff Gordon’s late crash (Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth).
And they’re still in position to have all four of their drivers advance to the Contender Round following next weekend’s first-round finale at Dover International Speedway – a track that’s been good for HMS and especially so for Johnson, who won his ninth race on the “Monster Mile” this past June.
Earnhardt has also been strong as of late on the Dover concrete.
“I know everybody is looking at us like we are falling off a little bit, but Chicago hadn’t been a great track for us and New Hampshire hadn’t either,” said Earnhardt. “Dover has. So I will be surprised if we don’t go down there and be competitive.
“We were racing for a win there last year and ran pretty good there this year [finished ninth]. I look forward to going and having a good car.”
Indeed, Team Penske has been superb in the early going of the Chase. But look out for a proper response from HMS in Delaware.