Joey Logano gets first NASCAR All-Star win
Joey Logano celebrates in victory lane at Charlotte Motor Speedway after winning the Sprint All-Star Race on May 21, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
A new race format, an inconvenient caution, varying pit strategies in the first of three segments and, possibly, other unplanned circumstances resulted in quite a bit of confusion in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race exhibition event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Even several of the competitors were confused by what was going on.
What wasn’t confusing, though, was Joey Logano’s way to victory lane after a late-race battle with Kyle Larson.
“This is the All-Star Race,” Logano said. “It’s special just to be in the race. Forget about winning it; it’s just special. It’s neat to be in victory lane.”
Brad Keselowski finished a distant second to give Team Penske a one-two finish.
“A decent night, but not the great night we wanted with the Miller Lite Ford ending up second,” Keselowski said. “I’m pretty happy for my teammate, Joey Logano. He kind of did exactly what you would expect out of an All-Star Race format and made a pretty incredible pass to win the race. I’m happy for Team Penske, as a whole, but of course, I wish it was me in victory lane.”
Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch started on the front row after rain forced the cancellation of qualifying and the starting grid was set by owner points.
Harvick and Busch traded the lead back and forth in the opening laps before Harvick took sole possession of the lead position and pulled away. and was up by some three-and-a-half seconds by the time most of the 20-car race field began cycling through their initial mandated green-flag stops around the halfway point of the first segment.
Those who pitted at the segment midway point took four instead of just the mandated two, but five drivers, including Logano, Keselowski, Busch, and Matt Kenseth opted to wait until late in the segment and change only the required two and then take the other two during the second mandatory stops between the first two segments.
“We actually didn’t go by Plan A,” Logano said. “We had Plan A, B, C and D, and we actually went bhy Plan B, which was the two-tire call, there. I actually thought we were in trouble, there, when a couple cars pitted under caution, and we got used up on that restart.”
The strategy worked for those drivers, except for Kenseth. Kenseth waited too long to make his first planned stop and was caught without having made it by a yellow flag for a Jamie McMurray spin on lap 46. The caution came too late in the segment for the race to return to green by segment’s end, shortening Kenseth’s opporotunity to make his first mandated stop. Caught without making that first stop, Kenseth was penalized a lap.
The McMurray caution also seemed to catch nearly half the field a lap down after their four-tire stops to a handful of drivers’ two and Kenseth’s failure to pit under green.
“We couldn’t even get clarification after the pit stop as to where we were even supposed to be, and then, we restarted and find out we’re a lap down, and it’s like, ‘How did that happen? How did that happen?”
Confusion aside, Keselowski and Busch were on the front row to start the second segment. Keselowski led throughout the segment until a caution for a multi-car incident on lap 72 (race)/22 (segment). The caution-causing incident started with Chase Elliott slowing to get onto pit road and collected Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Kenseth.
Busch took the lead from Keselowski on the restart that followed and soon after the race returned to green, the field cycled through another round of mandatory pit stops, as they only have four laps remaining by the deadline for the round of stops.
A pit-road speeding penalty for Busch put Keselowski back up front, but a few laps later, Larson moved into the lead.
Between the second and third segments, a draw by NASCAR called for the top-11 cars to pit for four tires, while the remaining cars remained on the track on older tires. Only 13 cars were on the lead lap, and Busch and Jimmie Johnson were to two who had to stay out on their old tires. After staying out, they moved to the front row for the start, in front of those who pitted. Martin Truex Jr. was then put back on the lead lap after being scored the first driver one lap down and started in the back of the field.
Larson quickly got by the front-runners on old tires and a few laps later, Logano got up to second. The two raced side-by-side for the win in the closing laps, and the battle got intense, so intense that Larson made contact with the wall and, as a result, wound up having to got down pit road on the second-to-last lap. Logano, then, was alone in first with his teammate a distant second.
“I tell you, Larson is a hard racer,” Logano said. “I watched him in the Showdown earlier today, and I knew what I was up against. I knew he was gonna run hard. I’m a hard racer. I knew it was gonna be a fun battle, for sure. I got underneath him once, and I got to the outside of him once. We went up high, and I got underneath him, and I got loose underneath him. I knew I had position on him going into the corner and had to keep him on my quarter panel and not let him get to my door, so I drove in there hard. He was gonna drive in there hard to keep on my door, and I was gonna drive in there hard to keep him at my quarter. What a crazy battle for $1 million at the end.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch finished third through fifth. Sixth through 10th were Elliott, Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.