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BRISTOL, Tenn. - And so the carousel continues to turn.
Joey Logano landed at the gold ring as the big wheel stopped spinning -- for a while -- Saturday night in the Irwin Tools Night Race. He finished a strong fifth after a tough night, and, in the process, gained three places in points to 10th. It’s the first time Logano has been in the top 10 in seven races and puts him in excellent position to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
At the other end of the scale, Brad Keselowski was swept up in a late-race accident, finished 30th with a crippled race car and dropped three places in points to 11th, four points out of the top 10.
With two races remaining before the Chase cutoff at Richmond, three Ford Racing drivers sit uncomfortably close to each other in the standings. Greg Biffle, who gained a spot Saturday night with a ninth-place run, is ninth, 13 points in front of the 10th-place Logano. Next is Keselowski.
Carl Edwards, Ford Racing’s top seasonal points performer, moved a step closer to locking up a Chase spot Saturday, although he had a disappointing night. Edwards led 119 laps and seemed to be on the way to his second win of the year before an engine failure ended his night after 387 laps. He finished 39th but kept his third-place spot in the point standings.
So Ford Racing enters this week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway carrying a mixed bag of results from Bristol but with a clear shot at putting four drivers in the Chase race.
Logano, whose team keeps firing on all cylinders in a strong summer surge, notched a top-five finish Saturday despite being involved in a wreck in the early laps. He was ecstatic after the race and clearly can smell the Chase.
“They can’t put us down and can’t keep us down,” Logano said. “This team is awesome. We deserve to make this Chase, and if we keep doing this on days that they’re trying to put us down, we deserve it. I’m just really proud of everybody on this Shell/Pennzoil Ford team. They’re all excited about this top five.
“I feel like I had the winning car all night. I feel like I had the fastest car and the only car that could really pass people. We went from 20th there with 40 or 50 to go to finishing fifth. We’re proud of that.”
Logano said the Penske Racing team responded in a big way in a big race, with the 22’s Chase hopes hanging in the balance.
“I dug my heart out, and this whole team dug their heart out the whole day, and this is what we’ve got to do,” he said. “This is the only way we’re going to make the Chase.”
Now it’s on to the battle of Atlanta, where Edwards could lock up his spot in the playoffs, and where the three other Ford Racing drivers in Chase contention will be seeking top fives -- at least.
The merry-go-round speeds up.