BRISTOL, Tenn. — Joey Logano surged past Matt Kenseth with 44 laps to go Saturday night and won at Bristol Motor Speedway for the first time in his Sprint Cup career, foiling Kenseth's gambling attempt to secure a spot in NASCAR's playoffs.
Logano became the fifth driver this season to win three times, joining the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and his Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, who finished second in the Irwin Tools Night Race.
"I woke up this morning and I wasn't sure if we had a winning car or not," Logano, who led 76 of 500 laps, told ESPN. "(Crew chief) Todd Gordon, he's a good salesman, he really sold me on thinking that we had a winning car."
Said Keselowski, "(In the final laps) we were about equal to Joey. He just had a little track position on me."
Kenseth stayed on the track as most of the field pitted under caution with 67 laps to go, picking track position and fresh air over new tires. It seemed the strategy could work, especially if he could stay in the high racing groove that gave drivers decidedly more speed off the corners.
But the Penske Racing teammates quickly proved the strategy faulty.
"I just knew that clean air was going to be worth more than new tires," Kenseth said after finishing third. He said he also felt his car wasn't as strong as he liked on fresh tires. "They cleared everybody way too fast."
He still remains in great position to make the playoffs, standing fifth in points and first among nonwinners.
But a victory would have sealed his spot in the 10-race Chase for the Championship; there are two races left before the Chase field is set.
Johnson, slowed early by two pit speeding penalties, rallied to finish fourth, and Kurt Busch was fifth.
Gordon remained the points leader despite a 16th-place run. He's 27 points clear of second-place Earnhardt and 42 up on No. 3 Keselowski.
With 100 laps to go, it looked like the series might get its 13th winner of 2014.
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.
McMurray pitted with 67 laps to go but did not second-guess the decision.
"I see that Matt (Kenseth) wasn't able to win staying out," McMurray said. "I don't know what happened. Our car got really tight with about 100 laps to go. We freed it up in the last pit stop, and it didn't really help."
Kasey Kahne, another driver desperate for a victory or a surge in points, led 40 laps. But he pitted under green with a loose wheel and went two laps down. He wound up 35th.
It was another rough night for Tampa's Aric Almirola, who has had six of those in a row since his first career victory, in the Coke Zero 400 on July 6 at Daytona, secured his Chase spot.
Almirola, who started 42nd after crashing in qualifying, completed just 37 laps before crashing. He wound up completing 123 laps to finish 41st. "What an amazing race car 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."