Between them, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski led for all but three laps of Saturday's NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International, despite both drivers incurring penalties on pit lane during the course of their otherwise dominant afternoon at the races as their rivals tended to bump and crash each other out of any possible contention.
By the end of the 82-lap race, the only question was which of the pair of Penskes would come away with the win. When the chequered flag came out it proved to be Logano who had the strongest car on the day, one that put him out of reach of even his team mate as he took his fourth win of the season.
"It's fun to have a car that is that fast. When you're out there racing your team mate for the win, it shows a lot about our organisation," said Logano. "I was mainly nervous about accidents and crashes that happen here and you get caught up in a lot of times. I felt like my car was fast enough to get to them, but I didn't know if I was going to get by them all.”
Full NASCAR Xfinity Series race results from Watkins Glen International.
Earlier in the morning, Penske had already locked out the front row for the Zippo 200 in qualifying with Logano taking his fourth pole of the year (and 30th pole in 143 races in total) by four tenths from team mate Keselowski with a lap of with a lap of 70.953s (124.308mph) on the 2.454 mile, 11-turn road course.
Four laps into the race Keselowski was able to get around Logano for the lead, with HScott Motorsports' Kyle Larson up to third ahead of Chris Buescher (Roush Fenway Racing) and Chase Elliott. However it was a brief moment in the sun for the #42 before Larson was heading to pit lane with a broken axle, while problems for John Wes Townley brought out the first caution of the day on lap 8 when the Athenian Motorsports #25 caught fire and the driver had to scramble clear.
At the restart, Chase Elliott spun at the bus stop while battling with his JR Motorsport team mate Regan Smith, but at least this time no caution was required. Logano managed to retake the lead just before heading down pit lane on lap 21, but the #22 left its stall with the fuel can still attached which triggered a caution when it finally fell out at pit exit, earning Logano a drive-thru penalty in the process.
Keselowski maintained the lead at the restart on lap 30 which stayed green despite Roush's Ryan Reed spinning in turn 1 after contact with JR Motorsports' Ben Rhodes; however Rhodes would blow an engine a few laps later, one of several incidents on lap 36 that collectively triggered a new caution which also included JGL Racing's JJ Yeley spinning off onto the grass and Daniel Suarez slowing on track after the JGR #18 got stuck in third gear.
Keselowski continued to lead at the restart on lap 40 which saw contact between Ty Dillon and Regan Smith in turn 1 spin Smith out of third place and left him rejoining in 29th; understandably he was unhappy about how that had played out, and the pair had a brief post-race scuffle on pit road after the race over the incident before being pulled apart by crew members and track officials.
As the race passed the halfway point, Keselowski continued to lead with Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard having taken up second place, but Menard was soon dispatched by Logano who had been busy charging his way back through the field with alacrity after his earlier fuel can penalty. A round of green flag pit stops ended with Logano in the lead ahead of Suarez and Ross Chastain, Keselowski now the one having to fight back after being handed a pit lane speeding penalty.
A new caution and pit stops on lap 60 helped jumble the field, Logano maintaining the lead and Keselowski promptly back in second ahead of Paul Menard and Chris Buescher fighting over third place. Another spin for Smith on lap 65 saw the #7 collected by Brendan Gaughan to bring out another caution, and at the restart there was contact between RCR team mates Dillon and Menard that fortunately avoided triggering another caution. A spin for Ryan Ellis a couple of minutes later was also handled under waved yellows.
However the caution was out again on lap 75 when contact with Gaughan sent Kenny Habul spinning in turn 7 where he was collected in a hard hit by Ryan Reed which forced a red flag to allow the track to be cleaned up of the fluid and debris from the wrecked Joe Gibbs Racing #20.
Logano, Keselowski and Buescher were in charge at the restart and maintained their positions, and with no further interruptions to proceedings it was Logano who clinched his 25th series victory having led for 39 of the 82 laps. His team mate - who had actually led for one more lap during the day - was forced to settle for second.
"It was kind of an up-and-down day - Joey was really, really fast and we knew that," admitted Keselowski. "He had a little bit of trouble himself on pit road and drove through the field so quickly that he was running lap times I think three or four tenths faster than I was when we were leading and it was just all I could do to really keep up with him there at the end.
"All-in-all I think I was probably a tad bit slower than Joey was and made a few too many mistakes, but mistakes are part of these Xfinity races, at least for us because we're pushing, trying to grow and be better race car drivers, better race teams and that's not easy to do. You've got to really hang it out to do that and I probably hung it out a little too far there and cost ourselves probably a better opportunity to win."
Buescher extended his lead in the Xfinity Series championship standings to 24 points over Chase Elliott who crossed the line in seventh place behind Boris Said (JGR), Ty Dillon and Brian Scott (RCR).
The NASCAR Xfinity Series is back in action again next week in a stand-alone event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 is on Saturday afternoon on August 15.
Full race results from Watkins Glen, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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