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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Brad Keselowski is part brash racer, and part pragmatist.
He was both after following Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano to the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, giving the team a 1-2 finish and a continuing surge of momentum.
Logano's third victory of the season gave him five consecutive finishes in the top six, and gave his teammate confirmation that Team Penske is as much a Sprint Cup championship contender as anyone.
"I think the results speak for themselves and we just need to keep rolling," the 2012 series champion said. "We've got two teams that are legitimate contenders by really every stretch of the imagination."
Logano's sixth career victory, secured when he passed Matt Kenseth with 44 laps to go and then held off a challenge from Keselowski in the closing laps, allowed him to join Keselowski and the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson as three-time winners this season.
It kept Kenseth, of Joe Gibbs Racing, winless, but caused Keselowski to admit that any groundswell of speculation expecting a duel between the Hendrick and Team Penske teams for the Sprint Cup Series championship is short-sighted.
"I think we've all got our eyes on Matt's group and all the Gibbs cars, and I just don't see a whole season going by without them having a dominant race car," he said of the group that also includes Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. "I think we're all fearful that that will happen at the Chase when it counts the most."
Logano, sporting a clown-sized smile, is the new addition to the conversation. He's never won more than one race in a season before this year, but in his second season with Penske, he clearly has found his comfort zone.
Departing the Gibbs shop two years ago and moving to Penske caused him to take stock of himself, he said.
"You get to walk in there as a new person, be who you want to be," he said. "For me, it was kind of the moment I grew up and took the bull by the horns and I was able to be very fortunate to team up with the right people to help me grow."
Here are five things to watch over the last two races before the Chase field is set:
STEWART'S CAR: Tony Stewart missed his third consecutive race after being involved in a sprint car accident that killed Kevin Ward Jr. in New York. Jeff Burton filled in for the third week in a row, had the car in the top 10 at one point and finished 15th. Might he finish the season in the car?
MATT'S IN: He won't say it, because he's cautious that way, but despite not having won a race, Kenseth is fifth in the points battle, one spot above six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who has won three times. It would take a string a monumental dominoes falling wrong for him not to be in after Richmond.
TEMPER TANTRUM: 'Chemistry' is a word often used in NASCAR to explain a team's success, and Kyle Busch must not be a science guy. Crew chief Dave Rogers, weary of his driver's incessant complaining during Saturday night's race, finally told Busch to park the car by the hauler and take his "whiny" self to the bus. Busch parked it all right, but on pit road, leaving his crew members to push it to the hauler.
HAMLIN AND HARVICK: NASCAR said there will be no action taken against Denny Hamlin for throwing his HANS device at Kevin Harvick's car as it passed under caution after Harvick caused Hamlin to spin and crash as the leader. There's history between these two, though, and both are locked into the Chase, so if "Boys, have at it" is their prevailing mindset the next two weeks, the five or six drivers contending to qualify for the playoffs on points might be well-advised to be aware of where these two are at all times.
SNEAKY JIMMIE: Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson had finished in the top 10 just three times in the previous eight races, and he's been 39th or lower just as often. He twice got busted for speeding on pit road early at Bristol, but rallied to finish fourth. Perhaps he's just rounding into Chase form?
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