DARLINGTON, S.C. — Watch out Big Three, Team Penske is coming on strong.
Penske racers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished first and second in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday night in a powerful performance that gives them confidence of being a factor in the upcoming playoffs in couple of weeks.
Keselowski swept both Darlington races after his Xfinity victory here Saturday. He used a fast pit stop and a quick, efficient restart to pull in front of leader Kyle Larson and bring Penske its first Darlington win since 1975.
Now, the two are looking for bigger things in a year dominated by past champions Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
"Yeaaaaa!" Logano said when asked about out-running the three here.
"The fact that we can keep up and race them and pass them, that felt good," Logano said. "That's been about a year since I passed one of those cars. So that feels really good."
Keselowski said it's been a frustrating year because the Penske cars haven't had the speed they've usually enjoyed. "When we've had the speed, I completely messed them up," he said.
Both races at Daytona this year and at Talladega, Keselowski felt his own mistakes cost the team victories. To give up chances like that is difficult because you can't ever be sure, the 2012 NASCAR champion said, when you'll ever get a car strong enough to win again.
When you don't have the speed, Keselowski said, "you literally beat your head against the wall."
Keselowski now thinks a renewed Team Penske might have something for the rest of the playoff field.
"I sure ain't complaining about the one-two finish," he said. "And I know no one at Penske is complaining."
Other things we saw at Darlington Raceway:
JOHNSON'S PLIGHT: Many expected seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson to pull himself out of a season-long funk with a big showing at Darlington Raceway. Instead, Johnson and his team went the other way with a lost weekend of problems. He damaged the car after qualifying 20th that forced him to the back of the field for unapproved — yet necessary — changes. He had a loose wheel early and was penalized for a commitment line violation. The capper was a faulty oil pump that sent him behind the wall and out of the race. He's 14th in points, but has not yet clinched.
"If we can just start minimizing mistakes, my own included, we will be much better off and have a shot," Johnson said.
LARSON'S STYLE: Kyle Larson chooses to see his weekend as very fast instead disappointing third. Larson led 284 laps and looked to have the race locked up after having won the first two stages and building a big, big lead during long green flag runs. "Really happy with the car that we brought to the race track on Friday," he said. "I felt like from the first run on the track, I knew were going to have a pretty good weekend."
Larson is part of the 16-team playoffs and hopes his Darlington performance can fuel more success down the road.
BIG THREE?: NASCAR's big three drivers in Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. with all mostly bit players at Darlington Raceway. Harvick ended fourth after starting 22nd, Kyle Busch was seventh while Martin Truex Jr. was 11th.
"It's really disappointing to have a car that good to be up front and have that many troubles on pit road," Truex said. "It's pretty disappointing. We have to clean it up. Playoffs are coming. We do that in the playoffs and we'll be out in the second round."
PACKED DARLINGTON: The old country track looked full and vibrant after its $7 million makeover to widen and improve seating and aisles and other fan amenities. Weather delays cleared the grandstands twice and the race started about 45 minutes after its schedule. But the stands were packed throughout the night and officials were pleased with the turnout.