By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service March 3, 2019 at 6:40 pm
LAS VEGAS – It was a victory for Joey Logano.
It was a victory for Team Penske.
It was a victory for NASCAR’s new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package, which debuted in full flower Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
In a pitched battle between teammates, Logano held off Brad Keselowski on the final lap of the Pennzoil 400 to score the second straight victory for Team Penske and the second straight for the new Ford Mustang, which was introduced into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this year.
Pennzoil sponsored both the race and Logano’s car.
“I said we’re going to do donuts on that giant infield logo after the race, and we were able to do it,” said Logano, who won for the first time this season, the first time at Las Vegas and the 22nd time in his career.
“What a great race. Brad and I were so evenly matched, and you just can’t drive away (with the lead). In the last five or six laps, Brad was catching me so quick, and I got stuck behind a lapped car. Man, it was so close. Lots of fun – my heart’s still running hard.”
Keselowski, who won last week at Atlanta, had a huge run through Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap, but Logano was able to clear his teammate off the final corner – with inches to spare – straighten his No. 22 Ford and head for the checkered flag.
“Yeah, I figured he’d run up against the wall there, and he made up more ground than I thought he would,” Logano said. “He made such a good run and I just barely cleared him there at the end.
“Team Penske going 1-2 shows the kind of speed we’ve got this season.”
On Lap 240 of 267 in a race whose only two cautions were the breaks between stages, Keselowski passed Logano in traffic to take the lead. Four laps later, Logano returned the favor and held the top spot the rest of the way.
“It was a good battle,” Keselowski said. “We were both running really hard on the top. It seemed to come down to what the lapped cars were going to do. The lapped cars screwed the leader, and the second-place guy got a really good run.
“It happened over and over again. First, Joey got hosed by a lapped car, and I got by him. Then I got hosed by a lapped car, and he got by me. But it was definitely a good event.”
In the end, the event came down to the final few laps, with Keselowski trimming Logano’s lead from just over a second to next-to-nothing with two laps left. Keselowski’s last-ditch try through the final two corners came up just short. The driver of the No. 2 Ford would have liked one more lap to settle the issue.
“I’d sure like to find out,” Keselowski said. “I passed Joey with the lapped traffic there and caught a break there, and then lapped traffic cost me the lead to Joey and he pulled a good slide job (off Turn 4 on the final lap).
“I tried to pull it back, and I was just a touch too nice to him.”
Kyle Busch recovered from a pit road speeding penalty to run third, his chances to make the final run a three-way fight for the win ending when he ran afoul of traffic on the final three laps. Pole winner Kevin Harvick dominated the first stage, but the handling of his No. 4 Ford deteriorated in the second half of the race, as it had done last week at Atlanta. He finished fourth.
Kurt Busch parlayed a divergent pit strategy into a fifth-place run. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin completed the top 10.
Logano led 86 laps, second only to Harvick’s 88. With the race running green except for the stage breaks, 18 cars finished on the lead lap.
The new competition package kept the racing closer at the front and more fluid within the pack. The event produced 47 green-flag passes for the lead versus nine in last year’s race. All told, there were 19 lead changes at the completion of laps as opposed to 11 in 2018.
Seventeen drivers each accounted for more than 100 green-flag passes, according to NASCAR’s loop data.
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