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Team Penske has identified areas in need of improvement to beat Hendrick Motorsports.
“Oh, everywhere,” said Travis Geisler, Team Penske‘s NASCAR competition director. “It makes it easy to go to work.”
And there is a lot of work to be done.
Hendrick Motorsports has won the past five races — six if counting the exhibition All-Star Race — and not just by pure luck. There’s SMT (SportsMEDIA Technology) data that proves Hendrick Motorsports‘ superiority. Team Penske can literally see its competitor‘s on-track advantage when it comes to intel such as where cars gain speed, entry and exit times, long-, medium- and short-term runs and more.
“You don‘t have the kind of dominance that those guys have had over the past six weeks without just a pretty incredible combination of things,” Geisler said. “Everybody‘s always asking, ‘What is it? What do we need to work on?‘ And it‘s kind of like anything; it‘s a lot of little things and a lot of stuff in all different areas.”
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Alex Bowman, steering the No. 48 Chevrolet this season, won at Dover International Speedway to kick off the recent Hendrick Motorsports bender. Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 machine then won at Circuit of The Americas. And the No. 5 Chevy of Kyle Larson has rolled to Victory Lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sonoma Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway (All-Star Race) and Nashville Superspeedway since then.
In those six races, Hendrick Motorsports‘ four-car garage (don‘t forget William Byron in the No. 24) recorded 20 top-10 finishes. Team Penske had eight, albeit with one less entry, among Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Ford), Ryan Blaney (No. 12) and Joey Logano (No. 22).
“We‘ve got to get our cars better to where we can compete with them guys,” Blaney said. “Obviously they‘ve been really fast all year, but the past couple months, that whole group has just been spectacular. And honestly, the 5 has kind of made everyone look pretty silly.”
Larson boasts a series-best five victories this year, his other coming in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He‘s one of three multi-race winners through 17 races. The others are Joe Gibbs Racing‘s Martin Truex Jr. (three) and Larson‘s teammate, Bowman (two).
Bowman‘s first win was in April at Richmond Raceway.
Byron, though he hasn‘t really been mentioned yet, was the first Hendrick Motorsports wheelman to capture a checkered flag. He did so in February at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
All of Hendrick Motorsports‘ drivers are locked into the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs, but so are all of Team Penske‘s pilots. Blaney won at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Logano won at Bristol Motor Speedway (dirt), and Keselowski won at Talladega Superspeedway. That timeline actually makes Team Penske the first organization to qualify its entire roster.
“March and April, I thought we were right there with the head guys and things like that,” Blaney said. “It seems like they have found a little bit of something here in the past couple months and been really strong. … We‘re working our butts off trying to find that with any package, whether it‘s low downforce, high downforce, road course — it doesn‘t matter.”
That little bit of something has led to a lot bit of speed.
Nine regular-season races remain, starting with a doubleheader at Pocono Raceway (Saturday at 3 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET; both live on NBCSN), before the real title battle begins with the 10-race postseason.
“Not panicked, but definitely realistic on the ground that needs to get covered here over the next couple of months,” Geisler said. “And then you‘ve got to be there when it counts at the end.”