Brad Keselowski enters Saturday's race at Richmond International Raceway locked into the Chase and among the favorites for the 2011 championship.
Climbing from 21st to 11th in the standings in six weeks, Keselowski said the team has been able to "execute at a really high level" as of late, but still has room to grow.
"The biggest percentage of the pie in this sport is to execute," he said. "We've done that very well over the last few weeks. We have decent speed – probably not the best speed – but top-10 speed, and we're executing above top-10 level."
For much of the season, however, the team had not been executing at a level sufficient enough to be considered a contender. Keselowski fell as low as 28th in the standings at one point of the year and didn't have his first top-10 of the season until the 10th race (Darlington).
"Quite honestly, I haven't been good at Penske (Racing) until the last few months," he said. "I would call it growth. I don't think it's overly complicated that we must continue to grow on the path that we're on, and we have to sustain the growth that we have."
Encouraged by the growth of the team over the last few weeks, Keselowski said it is no guarantee that will continue and added he still has to "grow another step" to have a shot at the title.
Despite no previous Chase experience, Keselowski is not worried about being at a disadvantage. Looking at the competition, he said the No. 48 team of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus are the fastest and "mentally strongest" team in the field.
"That's a lethal combination, because when you have the mental focus they have you can execute properly and when you have speed, that's two of the three parts of the pie – the other one being a little bit of luck," he said. "And they've had two over the last few years."
Keselowski is not putting his attention on beating Johnson, though, saying that is where most teams have "screwed up" in the past. Instead, he is focused on finding the speed to beat Jeff Gordon, who he said has "the fastest race cars" at this point of the season.
"I feel like we can execute at a very high level and have the focus it takes to win the championship where we're at right now," he said. "I really do."
In order to do that, Keselowski said the team will have to "continue the rate of growth" they have been experiencing as of late. Without going into specifics, he indicated the biggest leaps needed to become a serious championship contender will come from the "less pronounced areas" within the organization and not the more visible areas that have surfaced over the past few weeks.