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Penske Competition Director Talks About 2014 Turnaround

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 20 2014

Team Penske has stepped up its game in 2014. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Roger Penske shocked – and disappointed – a lot of people three years ago when he announced that his Sprint Cup operation would switch from Dodges to Fords beginning with the 2013 season.

His team had, afterall, just won its first Cup championship in 2012 with Brad Keselowski driving the No. 2 Dodge.

In the first year in Fords, Team Penske struggled. Like crazy.

Keselowski, who had won five times during his championship season, won just one race in 2013. Worse, he failed to make the Chase.

Teammate Joey Logano did make the Chase but he, too, was unable to win more than a single race in the new Fords that Team Penske was building.

Those who had an affinity to Dodges must have been snickering.

But this season, it’s all changed for Team Penske – for the better. Both Keselowski and Logano are challenging for victories in, virtually, every race. Both have won races – Logano has won two.

Both are ranked in the top 10 in points and appear to be locks for the Chase – which is now just 12 races away.

The Team Penske cars are just plain fast.

The turnaround has been impressive.

On Friday at Sonoma Raceway – site of this weekend’s Cup race – Travis Geisler, the highly respected competition director at Team Penske answer a series of questions about the team and the season it is having.

A transcript of that Q and A with Giesler follows:

Question: WHERE DO YOU FEEL YOUR TEAM IS RIGHT NOW COMPARED TO THE SAME POINT LAST SEASON?

Geisler: “Everybody is a whole lot more comfortable with everybody we’re working with. We know our way around Ford a little bit better now and where the strengths are. Everybody has weaknesses, but the biggest thing is to figure out where the strengths are and I think there are certainly a lot of those at Ford that early last year we didn’t know how to tap in to and now we’ve been able to work together a little better on areas that they can help us a lot, and I feel like as a company we’re a whole lot more stable. The relationship with the engine company was new for all of us. We’d never really had a relationship with an outside motor supplier when we were with Penske and Penske Engines, so that took a little bit of time to get up to speed with how to technically share information and who to work with over there, and I think everybody has made some good steps forward.

“I think Roush Yates has added a technical director with Jamie McNaughton, who has been a great asset for us and is somebody that has been able to really strengthen our relationship with them. So I think overall everybody feels pretty good about it. We came out of the gates very strong compared to last year when we had some issues early in the season. The first eight weeks was a bit of a struggle, to be honest, and now I think the first eight we kind of hit our stride and we were able to get three wins and get some things done there that were really important for us for the rest of the year.”

Question: WHERE DO YOU FEEL TEAM PENSKE IS IN TERMS OF COMPETING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR?

Geisler: “I think you’re going see about four or five cars. I think if you looked at today, and everything can change by the time we get to there because this deal really ebbs and flows a lot, but I think the 4 and the 48 are probably the two main targets. Obviously, the 24 and the 88 have been running well, and then I feel like our cars are right there. I think it will certainly be a difficult battle, but I think we’re getting ourselves in position and we’re focused on what we need to do for those last 10 races to be the best ones of the year.”

Question: THE BOTTOM LINE IS YOU FEEL DESPITE THIS HENDRICK HOT STREAK THAT YOU’RE RIGHT THERE WITH THEM?

Geisler: “Yeah, I would say that week in and week out we’re there. We’re leading laps. We’re qualifying and we’re getting things done. I think being able to lead a lap in every race this season says that you’re there. Brad got wrecked early at Martinsville, but he’s led a lap in every race except for that one, so I think it just shows your level of competitiveness and as long as you can continue to do that – put yourself in good positions – you’ll have a chance. I feel like we’ve led more than just single laps. We’ve led significant portions of races. If you look at Pocono, that was a lot of laps that Brad led (95 total) and that’s a good sign for everyone when you go to a track like that because it takes everything to run well there. We probably should have come away with a win, but that doesn’t count in this deal, but it still counts when you look at your overall performance compared to the guys you know you’re gonna have to race for the championship.”

Question: WHERE ARE YOUR PREPARATIONS AT IN TERMS OF TESTING FOR THE CHASE? “That’s an evolving process. I think that every week you get a little bit smarter about where your own strengths and weaknesses are as a company and you can do a little better job choosing which tracks you want to utilize. I think the way that testing works right now is really cool. I really like what NASCAR has done. I think the ability of teams to decide where they want to go, to make strategic decisions and not have it dictated to us when and where is great. We get to decide if it’s early or if it’s late, if it’s a short track or intermediate, and I think that helps balance out a lot of the weaknesses that teams had and you can shore yourself up a little bit. We’re pretty close on where we’re gonna be.

“We have all four of our company tests left, which is really nice. We would have had to use those at some of these tracks coming up if we were in the spot we were last year, where we didn’t have either car locked in at this point. We would be testing at some of the tracks coming up to make sure we could go and execute, but we know we can probably go to those tracks and run well and we’re most likely in the Chase with both cars, so we’re focused on how to use those four tests at tracks in that last 10.”

Question: WHAT ARE YOU MOST PLEASED WITH SO FAR THIS SEASON AS A GROUP?

Geisler: “I think the biggest asset to us right now is teamwork. Both teams are working off of each other and confidence. When you come out and you have a big rules change and some car changes – the aero package changed a fair amount from what we’ve ever had before – when we came out and had some success both guys were able to gain some confidence that their direction was working and it was generating results. That’s the hardest thing to do is get confidence and what your mindset is on how you’re approaching your setups week in and week out. There’s kind of a philosophy on how you create your setup to show up with and right now we’re showing up and we have decent speed in the cars and that just continues to build that confidence that you know what you’re doing and you can generate a setup that will run well when you’re sitting at your desk at the shop. So that’s huge when you go to these last 10.”

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, June 20 2014
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  • Anne says:

    Thanks for the article. I bristle when the media and fans say “other teams need to pick up their game”, etc. (In regards to HMS). I say how insulting is it to think that other teams are just not giving their best effort and somehow are just missing what HMS has. I say bull. These teams ALL strive, why would they not? Penske for example is a world class organization in the world of racing, I would think Roger doesn’t suffer fools lightly or take the other’s reject’s under his umbrella, give me a break.