LAS VEGAS — Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski were side by side off the fourth turn, fighting for the last burst of speed on the final lap at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Logano barely managed to block Keselowski’s move, and the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion prevailed Sunday for his first win in his title-defense season.
“That was more intense than I wanted it to be,” Logano said after his 22nd career victory. “There have been plenty of times here when we’ve led a lot of laps here, but we’ve never won, and that’s the most important stat to have.”
After narrowly answering Keselowski’s last-lap passing attempt, Logano celebrated the result of NASCAR’s first race under its full new rules package designed to foster tight racing and excitement.
“What a great race,” Logano said. “Brad and I were so evenly matched, and you just can’t pull away (under the new rules). My heart is still running.”
NASCAR got excitement on the final lap, although the quality of the 266 laps before that sharply divided drivers and observers — no surprise in a sport that rarely agrees on much of anything.
The Vegas race featured no cautions, which meant the thrilling restarts expected under the new rules were limited to a couple of wild laps after the two segment breaks.
“There toward the end, the way this drafting package, these rules work, it was intense,” Logano said. “You can’t get away. You’re constantly looking around. Mentally, I’m exhausted right now. … It proves you don’t need crashes to have an exciting race. There’s so much strategy that goes into driving these race cars now. I thought it was as entertaining as can be. I don’t really know what to say if you don’t like that.”
Keselowski drove up from 19th to take the lead with 27 laps left, but his hopes for back-to-back victories were dashed when Logano passed him while Keselowski was held up by lapped traffic.
“I’d like to have one more lap,” said Keselowski, who won the playoff race in Vegas in September. “It was a good battle, and we were both fighting really hard at the top. It seemed like it came down to what the lapped cars were going to do.”
Greg Beacham is an Associated Press writer.
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