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Fast Short-Run Cars Paid Off for Team Penske at Richmond International Raceway

April 28th, 2014 at 8:31 PM
By Mark Eddinger

With 31 laps to go in Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway things looked bleak as far as a Team Penske car going to victory lane even though Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had top contending cars all race long. A long green flag run had shown the weakness in the Team Penske cars set ups as Keselowski dropped outside the top 10 and Logano had fallen into sixth place.

'Joey Logano' photo (c) 2013, Mike Kalasnik - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The caution flag on lap 369 of 400 laps that came out when Jimmie Johnson's car dropped debris on the track due to a flat right-front tire came just in time for the Team Penske teammates. While the caution gave Keselowski and Logano another chance at a win especially with very fast cars on the shorter run it was a detriment to other drivers.

Jeff Gordon had led a race high six times for 173 laps and time and again went to the lead after about 20 laps into a run but he did not have the quickest car for the first handful of laps in a run. Matt Kenseth had come from the back part of the top 10 where he ran almost all race to blaze into the lead past Gordon on lap 362 showing that his car was very strong on the long haul. The other driver the caution hurt was Brian Vickers. Vickers ran outside the top 15 for much of the race but under the long green run he had worked his way all the way up to third and was the fastest car on the track when the caution flew.

The race went green on lap 377 with 24 laps left and that seemed like it would play out well for either Jeff Gordon or Matt Kenseth. However, a quick caution when Denny Hamlin spun, set up another restart on lap 383 with 18 laps left. Then JJ Yeley blew an engine which set up another restart with on lap 392 with nine laps left. Now with cars fast on the short run and not a lot of green flag racing on their tires things fell Team Penske's way.

Matt Kenseth led on the restart with Dale Earnhardt Jr second, Jeff Gordon third, Joey Logano fourth, and Brad Keselowski fifth. Earnhardt Jr was not much of a factor and faded to seventh dealing with late-race break issues. The race was on though between Kenseth and Gordon with cars that were not as quick on a short run and Logano and Keselowski who were very quick.

Gordon pressured Kenseth but Matt blocked the bottom line which Gordon was in. Keselowski was not waiting around and took his fight to the top side getting past Gordon. Kenseth then moved up the track trying to take Keselowski's line away. That allowed Gordon to have opportunities on the bottom to look into making it three-wide. Meanwhile as the three battled hard and even had contact Joey Logano caught up and he took advantage by getting past Gordon and then Kenseth and Keselowski when Keselowski got into the back of Kenseth with less than five laps left.

The run was not long enough to allow Gordon or Kenseth's cars to come around and Joey Logano went onto win. Gordon settled for second with Keselowski in fourth and Kenseth back in fifth. Kyle Busch had soared to third after putting on fresh tires before the last restart. Brian Vickers meanwhile fell back to finish in 12th.

With the way the cautions played out it worked perfect for Team Penske and allowed Joey Logano to pick up his second win of the season and lock himself into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Tags: Brad Keselowski, Brian Vickers, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano, matt kenseth, Motorsports, richmond international raceway, Team Penske, Toyota Owners 400

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