After qualifying on the front row, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had the pace to stay toward the top of the leaderboard today at Phoenix International Raceway.
But with wins now virtually ensuring your place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, near-misses are not good enough. Keselowski and Logano both indicated as much after finishing third and fourth respectively behind winner Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“It feels to good to run up front and be competitive, but in this system, wins are the only thing that count,” Keselowski said. “Last year, you’d say seconds and thirds are great but this year, they’re not. They’re just so-so.
“We were close. I could see it the whole race. Some of our long-run stuff was good as anybody, and the short-run stuff was just OK. It was a good run either way, something to be proud of and hang our hat on. We just know we have to be a little bit better and go from there.”
Keselowski was able to achieve the Top-3 result despite not having his regular crew chief, Paul Wolfe, present. Wolfe flew home during the weekend to be with his wife as they welcomed their first child, Caden Paul.
Yesterday, Keselowski admitted that he was “concerned” about not having Wolfe around for today’s main event. But today, he praised Greg Erwin and Brian Wilson for doing well with filling in for Wolfe.
“They did a great job,” he said. “We still had two more spots to go but all things considered, they did really well and I’m really proud of their effort.”
As for Logano, he was able to push Harvick past Earnhardt for the lead on multiple restarts during the last 35 laps. But he wasn’t able to latch on to Harvick’s back bumper.
“With the new points structure, a win means so much to get you in the Chase,” Logano told Fox Sports in post-race. “I knew my restarts were really good all day and I was able to push [Harvick] along. I wasn’t sure I had enough to go three-wide and go for it, but on the last restart [with nine laps to go], I was like, ‘You know what? Go for it. What have you got to lose?’
“Third place doesn’t mean nothing these days. I shoved our Shell-Pennzoil Ford into a hole there and it just didn’t work out and that’s how we lost [second]. I probably wouldn’t have finished third if I didn’t do it, but you’ve got nothing to lose.”
Logano was still complementary of his team’s effort on the weekend. Nonetheless, he couldn’t help but marvel over Harvick, who led 224 of 312 laps en route to his third Phoenix triumph in his last four races there.
“On the back of his car, it says ‘Freaky Fast!’ And…they weren’t lying,” Logano said in reference to a slogan belonging to Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, Harvick’s main backer on the No. 4 Chevy for this race.
“We’ll just have to go back and figure out what he’s doing [at Phoenix]…I went to school behind him a little bit, learned a little bit, but didn’t have enough to beat him.”