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BRISTOL, Tenn. -- With 44 laps left on what Joey Logano called "just the baddest mammer-jammer race track ever built," the winds of Cup momentum shifted at gale force Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Team Penske seized control of the notorious night race at that point, when Logano took the lead with teammate Brad Keselowski in hot pursuit, from Matt Kenseth.
From there, Logano's only threat was Keselowski, and their cars "were really, really equal," Keselowski said, "and whoever got out front and got the clean air first was going to win the race, and Joey was able to do that."
It was Logano's third win of the season, placing him alongside four other drivers, including Keselowski, who have won three. And it was the fifth straight week Logano has finished sixth or better.
|Joey Logano was just too good down the stretch Saturday night as he won for the third time this season.|
"I'd never won more than one race in a season," Logano said. "Now we've won three before the Chase even starts."
And suddenly, two-car Team Penske, and Ford Motor Co., grabbed momentum from Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet, with two races left in the regular season.
The Logano-Keselowski tandem topped off a weekend sweep by Penske and Ford. Keselowski had won Thursday's truck race in his own Ford, supported by Penske, and Ryan Blaney won the Nationwide race in a Penske Ford on Friday night.
Kenseth, tantalizingly close to breaking out of his winless season, got the lead for the final restart, with 63 laps left, by staying out on old tires while most leaders, including Logano and Keselowski, pitted.
Kenseth made the call for the gamble, because "I wasn't very good at all in traffic," he said. "We figured we'd try to stretch it out a little bit and hopefully hold those guys on tires off. But they cleared everybody way too fast on that restart. We did all we could to hang on."
He held for 21 laps, but Logano clearly had the stronger car in pursuit.
"I just kind of hounded him for a while," Logano said. "Waited for that mistake. Waited for that golden opportunity where I knew I could clear him. ... Finally he got a little bit up in the rubber, up high. He got a little free and I got a good run at the same time; was able to get up underneath him and get some good position into the corner."
Then here came Keselowski right behind Logano, in an equal Penske Ford, but the dirty air was the tiebreaker.
"Every time I'd get close to Joey, I'd pick up a massive aero push up off the corner and just couldn't do anything," Keselowski said. "I lost too much speed. I couldn't even get close enough to do a bump and run."
Diving through Turns 3 and 4 coming to the checkered flag, Keselowski did make a show of it.
"The last lap I just dive bombed it in there on a prayer, kind of hoping it would stick, or he would slip, or something would happen for me," Keselowski said. "That made it look cool, but it really wasn't that close."
With qualifying speeds rocketing past 130 mph on the notorious half-mile track, and new-found grip in a high groove up near the outside wall, Bristol required more focus and exacted more fatigue than ever.
"This is, I swear, the most grueling race of the year," said a visibly exhausted Keselowski. "It feels good just to complete it. ... I didn't fall out of the seat, so I'm damn near as proud of not falling out of the seat as I am of anything else."
"It's the most physically demanding race track," Logano said. "A demanding race track not only for the driver but for the race car. When you think about the loads these things are under, there's never really a break. You're just always on the gas or on the brake or in the turns. ...
"As a driver, you don't get a break inside the car, either," Logano continued. "A few times the caution comes out, and you're, 'Thank God.' And then you're going green like a minute and a half later."
For all that, the Penske duo endured and prevailed, and had total control after others -- Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Jamie McMurray -- had taken their shots up front but faded.
To do that on -- whatever "baddest mammer-jammer race track" means -- something like the wildest and most grueling track, let Team Penske lay claim to momentum in the series.
"Joey and I both have three wins, and we're entering the Chase strong in a lot of different ways," Keselowski said. "I think we're both legitimate threats to win the championship this year."
"Right now, with the momentum we have and the cars we have, we're fast at every type of race track," Logano said. "I wish we were at Atlanta [next stop on the tour] tomorrow. Well, maybe not tomorrow. I'm going to enjoy tomorrow.
"But Monday sounds good."