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Penske Racing shows 1-2 punch down the stretch

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Brad Keselowski is part brash racer, and part pragmatist.

He was both after following Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano to the checkered flag at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night, giving the team a 1-2 finish in the Irwin Tools Night Race and a continuing surge of momentum.

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Logano’s third victory of the season gave him five consecutive finishes in the top six, and gave his teammate confirmation that Team Penske is as much a Sprint Cup championship contender as anyone.

‘‘I think the results speak for themselves and we just need to keep rolling,’’ said Keselowski, the 2012 series champion. ‘‘We’ve got two teams that are legitimate contenders by really every stretch of the imagination.’’

Logano’s sixth career victory — secured when he passed Matt Kenseth with 44 laps to go and then held off a challenge from Keselowski in the closing laps — allowed him to join Keselowski and the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jimmie Johnson as three-time winners this season.

It kept Kenseth, of Joe Gibbs Racing, winless, but caused Keselowski to admit that any groundswell of speculation expecting a duel between the Hendrick and Team Penske teams for the Sprint Cup Series championship is short-sighted.

‘‘I think we’ve all got our eyes on Matt’s group and all the Gibbs cars, and I just don’t see a whole season going by without them having a dominant racecar,’’ he said of the group that also includes Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

‘‘I think we’re all fearful that that will happen at the Chase when it counts the most.’’

Logano, sporting a clown-sized smile, is the new addition to the conversation. He’s never won more than one race in a season before, but in his second season with Penske, he clearly has found his comfort zone.

Departing the Gibbs shop two years ago and moving to Penske caused him to take stock of himself, he said.

‘‘You get to walk in there as a new person, be who you want to be,’’ he said. ‘‘For me, it was kind of the moment I grew up and took the bull by the horns and I was able to be very fortunate to team up with the right people to help me grow.’’

Johnson, slowed early by two pit road speeding penalties, rallied to finish fourth, his best result since mid-June at Michigan, and Kurt Busch was fifth, rallying on a call by crew chief Daniel Knost with 130 to go after almost being lapped.

Gordon remained the points leader despite a 16th-place run. He’s 27 clear of Earnhardt and 42 ahead of Keselowski.

With 100 to go, it looked possible the series might get a 13th winner of the year.

Jamie McMurray, who led a race-best 148 laps, was leading, followed by Kenseth, and Ryan Newman was ninth. As the final laps clicked off, though, McMurray faded to eighth and Newman, once as high as seventh, dropped to 13th.

Kasey Kahne, another driver desperate for a victory or a surge in the point standings, led the race for 40 laps, almost to the halfway point. He then pitted under green with a loose wheel and went two laps down. He wound up 35th.

It was another rough night for Aric Almirola, who has had six of those in a row since his first career victory at Daytona made him one of the unlikeliest drivers to secure a spot in the upcoming Chase. Almirola, who started 42d after crashing in qualifying, completed just 37 laps before crashing.

‘‘What an amazing racecar these guys brought me — two of them — and to go out like that is certainly disappointing. But that’s racing at Bristol,’’ he said. ‘‘You get caught up in other people’s wrecks.’’

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NASCAR said there will be no action taken against Hamlin for throwing his HANS device at Kevin Harvick’s car as it passed under caution after Harvick caused Hamlin to spin and crash as the leader.

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