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Second time at Darlington is a charm for Team Penske

Dale Jarrett and Mike Tirico discuss how NASCAR is taking advantage of being one of the first live sports to return and how this could help convert new fans.

Jimmie Johnson wasn’t the only driver to rebound from a rough performance Sunday at Darlington to Wednesday’s reprise race there.

Team Penske also struggled at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track on Sunday, with Brad Keselowski finishing 13th, Ryan Blaney 16th and Joey Logano 18th.

Wednesday was a different story, at least for two of the trio: Keselowski finished fourth, Logano was sixth and Blaney couldn’t rebound from a wreck and unscheduled pit stop, finishing 21st.

For Keselowski, it was his best finish and second top-five showing of the season. But he felt the rain that ended the race 20 laps before its scheduled finish also robbed him somewhat.

“We cycled back to fourth right when the (second-to-last) caution (on Lap 196) came out and were in position to have the optimum lane and be behind a car that had older tires,” Keselowski said.

Keselowski worked his way up to fourth prior to Chase Elliott’s spin from contact with Kyle Busch on Lap 202, and then came the rain ending the race six laps later.

“Just part of the way it goes,” Keselowski lamented. “We weren’t the fastest car, but I thought we persisted and put ourselves in a spot to potentially steal a race win with our PIRTEK Mustang and just came up a tiny bit short.”

The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang led seven laps Wednesday and left Darlington sixth in the Cup standings, 67 points behind series leader and Sunday winner, Kevin Harvick.

For Logano, who won in early March at Phoenix, the last race prior to the hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, he was back in strong form Wednesday after appearing a bit rusty on Sunday.

Like Keselowski, Logano – who started third – appeared primed to finish even higher had it not been for the race-ending rain.

“Hard fought, blue collar night for us,” said Logano, who led 19 laps. “A lot of the race came down to where you placed yourself.

“You needed the outside lane on restarts. A lot of it came down to strategy. We only had one long green flag run all day, which isn’t normal. Wish we’d have had one more restart in the Shell-Pennzoil Ford at the end.”

Even so, Logano left Darlington second in the point standings, 34 points behind Harvick.

The only Team Penske driver who struggled Wednesday was Blaney. He started fifth and ran as high as second before finishing third in Stage 1. He continued doing well until making hard contact with the turn 4 wall late in Stage 2 that led to an unscheduled pit stop, dropping him to 33rd at the end of the stage.

Blaney would only be able to climb back to 21st before the rain came. He left Darlington 11th in the Cup standings, 90 points behind Harvick.

“We made big progress from where we were on Sunday,” Blaney said.

“Unfortunately, I got loose off turn 4 and made contact with the wall. Darlington has been tough on our team (Wednesday) and Sunday, but I’m looking forward to racing in Charlotte this coming Sunday.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski