Team Penske had speed Sunday but it really needed a caution
Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were fast enough to contend for the win Sunday at Phoenix Raceway but what they really needed at the end was to slow down.
For either driver to have a chance to catch leader Chase Elliott late in the race, they were going to need a caution to bunch the field.
Unfortunately for both, once the final stage went green, it stayed that way until the end and Elliott ended up cruising to a more than 2.7-second win over Keselowski.
Elliott claimed his sixth win of the season and his first series title while Keselowski and Logano finished second and third, respectively, in the series standings.
Several times during the race, Keselowski was hobbled by slow pit stops but he did manage to pass Logano late in the race and move into the runner-up position.
“Yeah, I would have liked to have had one of those late race yellows like we saw in the Truck and Xfinity races. I thought we were pretty good there, just didn’t have the track position to make it show,” Keselowski said.
“I thought we had a shot at the end of the second stage and just couldn’t keep it up in (a) spot to keep it where we could have a lead. Really proud of the speed we had. Just a solid day and just wish we had one more spot.”
Asked if he had the opportunity to seek an explanation for his team’s pit issues, Keselowski said, “I haven’t had a chance to look at that. You know, obviously at the end of Stage 2 I was right where I wanted to be, in the lead, and we lost a spot, which is not fun.
“But it’s a team effort, and just was tough to fight back through. We got up to second there at the end, and I feel like we were pretty equal. (Elliott) and I would have loved to have had a chance to race it out, but that’s not the way it played out.”
Logano started on the pole when Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection twice and ended up leading 117 of the first 119 laps of the race.
Late in the race, Logano was the first title contender to make his final green-flag pit stop and when everyone had cycled through on Lap 262 of 312, Logano emerged with the lead.
Elliott quickly showed his strength, however. He went to the inside of Logano off Turn 3, gave him a nudge and reclaimed the lead on Lap 270 and never looked back.
“We had good track position. Our pit crew was on it just like they’ve been through the whole playoffs,” Logano said. “They’re a pressure team. They love the pressure and they truly rise to the occasion.
“They did that the whole race. They did it even the last stop under green. Was able to get ourselves out in front of (Elliott) by a pretty good distance. And like I said, (Elliott) just kind of fired off a lot faster and kept going.”
Asked if he felt he let a second championship slip away, Logano said, “Obviously, when you don’t win it, it hurts. It definitely stings.
“I told the guys before the race started, I said in these races when you get to the Championship 4, you can’t lose. You either win or you become stronger. Unfortunately, we got stronger today.”
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