They didn't win the opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, but the Team Penske tandem of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski came close enough to carry lots of optimism forward to New Hampshire this weekend.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the next stop in the 10-race Chase.
Logano is especially excited about heading to NHMS after finishing second to race winner Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase opener on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland track. He said his No. 22 Ford team maximized its potential on a Sunday in which Jimmie Johnson had the dominant car early and Truex was faster at the end.
"It was awesome execution by the 22 team. From every angle." Logano said. "We had a very fast race car and were awesome on pit road."
Keselowski finished fifth, and said he could live with the fact that both Team Penske cars finished in the top five on a day when they clearly weren't the fastest -- but were close enough to it to sniff the lead at the end. Earlier in the race, Keselowski actually did lead seven laps and Logano led one.
"It was a solid day for us out there, nothing flashy," Keselowski said. "We ended up with a pretty decent finish."
And solid in the first race of the Chase is just fine. It puts both Logano and Keselowski in good position as they hope to advance to the second round of the playoffs when the Chase field is trimmed by four drivers after the next two races at New Hampshire and Dover.
"You want to have solid days on days where you aren't going to collect the win and that is what we had (at Chicagoland)," Keselowski said. "We kind of ran third to fifth most of the race and I think that is probably where we deserved to be."
Throw in the fact that de facto teammate Ryan Blaney, a Sprint Cup rookie driving for Wood Brothers Racing, was the race leader on the final restart before fading to fourth -- and it's obvious that the Team Penske group is moving in the right direction as the Chase progresses. Blaney is not in the Chase but his No. 21 Ford team works closely with Team Penske in a technical alliance where they share information.
Logano said he's also very encouraged by his No. 22 pit crew's apparent level of readiness and attention to detail as the Chase ratchets up the pressure for all involved.
"You want to talk about pressure? Not just Chase pressure, but coming down at the end of the race to try to win ... they executed and had an awesome pit stop and beat the 11 (of Denny Hamlin) out and ultimately that gives us a second-place finish," Logano said. "I couldn't be more proud of the team and the way we executed and attacked (Sunday). We will take this momentum and run with it the next nine weeks."