Team Penske tears through Chase’s Challenger Round

 Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, speaks with team owner Roger Penske in the garage area  during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam's Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 9, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, speaks with team owner Roger Penske in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 9, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Team Penske came into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup hot.

It moves on towards the Contender Round even hotter.

The dynamic duo of 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano took the opening two Chase races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, respectively, after finishing the regular season with a win apiece in the last three events. On top of that, Logano led all drivers with a 3.0 average finish in the Contender Round, while Keselowski ranked a close second with a 3.3 mark.

“I’m pretty proud to look at the sheet and know that we are the only team in the entire series that got top fives in the first three races of the Chase, and we had the best average finish,” Logano said. “I know Brad and his team had the second-best average finish, so I think that says a lot about Team Penske and how we are doing right now.”

With three Chase races in the books, Keselowski and Logano are entering uncharted territory under the playoff system’s now format. All 12 advancing drivers are on an even slate now that their points have been reset to 3,000 for the Contender Round. The Team Penske tandem gets its next shot at building on its momentum and separating from the pack again in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).

“We are going into Kansas with the confidence of our recent successes and having a win here adds to that as well,” said Keselowski about his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team. “It would be great to come out of this one on top.”

Keselowski won at Kansas in 2011, but has not placed in the top 10 in his last two races there. Expect him to be a favorite to take the checkered flag due to recent performance and wins this season at similar tracks. Keselowski has clinched victories at Chicagoland and Kentucky, which, like Kansas, span 1.5 miles and have similar flatter banking on the turns.

“We didn’t run as well as we would’ve liked to in the spring race earlier this year so that gives us added determination to improve our performance this weekend,” Keselowski said. “The team has been working diligently on enhancing our platform for this race, and we should be good this weekend.”

Logano struggled at Kansas when he competed for Joe Gibbs Racing, logging just one top 15 finish in eight starts. His performance at the tri-oval with Team Penske has been a different story. In three races at the Kansas with his new organization, Logano has finished fourth in his last two starts. One issue the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford driver hasn’t had at Kansas is pole position. He has started inside the top 10 six times, including second in the spring race earlier this season.

“We just need to keep doing what we are doing,” Logano said. “No reason to reinvent the wheel. The things we have been doing all year long have been working, so we just need to keep doing things the same way.”

Elliott keeps the points coming; Nationwide championship is his to lose

It was the same old story on the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit this weekend. Another race, another top finish for Chase Elliott, as the 18-year-old rookie wunderkind took third in the Dover 200 at the Monster Mile.

Chase Elliott. (Getty Images)

Chase Elliott. (Getty Images)

The NASCAR Next alum showed a level of poise and technical skill well beyond his years, rallying from 24th to the top of the field after he was forced to pit on Lap 39 due to a cracked front bumper suffered from following too close to a wreck.

“My team gave me an awesome car today,” Elliott said. “From the drop of the green, we had speed and I knew we had a car capable of winning. We just couldn’t overcome the early mistake. I was very pleased with the way my team taped up the car and got it to where it was still competitive. We battled as hard as we could. It just wasn’t enough.”

Despite his disappointment about failing to capture the win, Elliott furthered his grasp on the top of the NNS standings, increasing his lead over teammate Regan Smith to 26 points with just five races left. Barring a colossal mistake in the stretch run, Elliott will become the first rookie to ever win a NASCAR national series championship.

The No. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS Chevrolet driver has pulled away from the field by riding a string of nine straight top-10 finishes, including six top-five showings. He boasts 14 top fives on the season.

The next stop on Elliott’s title conquest is the Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2). The 1.5-mile tri-oval marks the first new track he has visited since the Aug. 30 race at Atlanta. Unknown courses have yet to faze Elliott this season. All three of his victories have come at tracks he had never raced at before (Texas, Darlington and Chicagoland).

“From what I’ve seen at Kansas Speedway, it certainly puts on a great show for the fans, so I hope we are able to provide excitement come Saturday,” Elliott said. “This team is relentless and we’re proud of that. We have five races left with a goal in sight and we’re not stopping until we achieve what we set out to do.”

NASCAR This Weekend

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Next Race: Hollywood Casino 400

The Place: Kansas Speedway

The Date: Sunday, Oct. 5

The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 400.5 miles (267 laps)

NASCAR Nationwide Series

Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300

The Place: Kansas Speedway

The Date: Saturday, Oct. 4

The Time: 3:30p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. (ET)

Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

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