With Speedweeks 2018 right around the corner and an expanded driver lineup, Team Penske is looking for the same kind of fast start that got its 2017 season rolling a year ago.
Joey Logano won the Advance Auto Parts Clash special event at Daytona International Speedway and then posted top-10 finishes in eight of the first nine points-paying races including a victory at Richmond Raceway. Brad Keselowski won twice in the first six weeks of the campaign and was among the first drivers to sew up a playoff berth. And they have a new teammate this year in Ryan Blaney, who comes over from Wood Brothers Racing.
So with NASCAR's 70th season now looming, the Team Penske trio is ready to pounce. Keselowski, who'll celebrate his 34th birthday next week, says last year's win in the second race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a catalyst for the success he enjoyed in the months that followed.
"If you looked at the start of the season, we won Atlanta and probably should have won Vegas," he notes, "and you could say that yeah, we definitely had speed in our cars."
Keselowski's Las Vegas reference was regarding the weekend after Atlanta, where he had a strong shot at a second straight win. After starting from the pole, the No. 2 Ford led four times for 89 laps before fading down the stretch and settling for fifth place. Still, Keselowski left the desert with the regular-season points lead.
Over the next two months, Keselowski assembled a string of consistent performances that yielded seven top 10s in an eight-race stretch - including his victory at Martinsville Speedway. Similar success in the early weeks of the 2018 schedule would leave Keselowski well-placed to pursue his second Monster Energy Series championship in seven years.
And he thinks the time is right for Team Penske's expansion to a third Cup Series entry for Blaney.
"We're better equipped now than ever before," Keselowski said of the organization, which last fielded three cars in NASCAR's top tier in 2010. "Is it perfect? Probably not. But from a management and cultural level, there is quite a stark contrast from this year to the three-car team in 2010."
Keselowski, entering his ninth full season of Cup Series competition, will once again be paired with veteran crew chief Paul Wolfe. Together, they helped steer the team to a fourth-place finish in the final 2017 standings - 10 points behind champion Martin Truex Jr.
Keselowski, scheduled to make his 300th start for Team Penske on April 21 at Richmond, echoes Logano in his support of Team Penske's expansion to a third team.
"We're not going to grow without being ready, having the right mix of people and everything in place," said Logano, who will once again wheel the No. 22 Ford. "Adding (Ryan) Blaney was a great decision and Paul (Menard) in the '21' will be good, as well."
That's a reference to the working agreement Team Penske has with the Wood Brothers, who signed Menard as Blaney's replacement in the No. 21 Ford.
As for the business at hand for the No. 22 team, Logano heads into his 10th full season with Todd Gordon once again in place as crew chief. As defending winner of this coming Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash, Logano is bidding to become just the fifth driver in the 40-year history of the event, which features pole winners from the previous season, to win the race in consecutive years.
Neil Bonnett was the first to go back-to-back, in 1983 and 1984. Ken Schrader followed in 1989 and 1990, Tony Stewart in 2001 and 2002, and then Kevin Harvick in 2009 and 2010. Logano earned his spot in this year's race by winning the pole for last year's March event at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
But like everyone else, Logano knows the big prize of Speedweeks is the Daytona 500, a race he won in 2015.
"We put a lot of work in over the off-season," Logano said, "spending time with each other, talking about races and our cars, where we can be even better-prepared for the first five or six races. There's extra motivation this year because you don't want to live 2017 again."
Ahh, 2017. Logano failed to make the playoffs after a crippling post-race penalty coming out of his win at Richmond left the No. 22 team playing catch-up the rest of the season. They never caught up, falling 100 points shy of a post-season berth.