If you ever wondered whether Roger Penske’s NASCAR Sprint Cup squadron had team orders, Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway answered that question thoroughly.
No, they don’t.
In the closing laps of the race, Kyle Busch led, with Team Penske’s Joey Logano second and Brad Keselowski third. Keselowski clearly had the fastest car of the three drivers, but the worst track position.
He got past Logano with eight laps to go and passed Busch for the win two laps later. But the interesting part of those final laps is that Keselowski had a much tougher time getting past his own teammate Logano than he did Busch.
"We knew we had a lot of long-run speed," said Keselowski in describing the end of the race. "Sure enough, we were able to hold off the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), who was really, really fast on his own.
"Next thing I knew, we were closing in on our teammate," said Keselowski. "Took a long time to get by Joey. He put up a heck of a fight. If anyone wants to say that your teammates lay over and give it to you, that’s not how we are at Team Penske. We race each other hard but clean. That was something to see and be a part of."
Logano said he wanted to win badly, as all good racers do.
"Man, we finished second so many times this year already, and this whole weekend we finished second," he said. "Second in every qualifying round, during qualifying, second in practice on Friday, second in the race. Just so close. I want to break through and get a trophy eventually. Still, nothing to hold our heads down about. It’s not easy to finish second. I want to break through and get a trophy."
In winning, Keselowski broke a 33-race winless streak, ending nearly a year of frustration.
"It’s a great feeling. One of the best feelings," Keselowski said of knowing he had the best car in the race at the end. "It’s a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often, being the fastest guy and having opportunity. We had the opportunity to win the race."
And he knew it.
"As soon as I passed Joey, I focused in on the 18 (Busch)," said Keselowski. "I watched him for one lap. When I saw his car, the way it was sliding and taking a set, the line he was running, I knew after that first lap that we could win the race."
And he did just that, making it three different winning drivers, teams and manufacturers in the first three races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. And in the next few races, we’ll see if any of them truly steps to the forefront.