By Brian Smith
Joey Logano hasn’t quite been able to find Sunoco Victory Lane at Dover in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but when it comes to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he’s now done something nobody else has done.
Logano drove to the lead off a restart at lap 165 and never relinquished it, winning the “5-Hour ENERGY 200” NASCAR Nationwide Series race. It is his third consecutive win in Saturday races at the Monster Mile, which has never happened since the Series started at Dover in 1982 and hasn’t happened at the track in any series since Jeff Gordon won three consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 1995 and 1996.
Kyle Busch was looking for the second leg of a possible three-race sweep at Dover after winning Friday’s “Lucas Oil 200” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race. And for quite some time, it looked like he would do it. He led 72 laps, and seemed to have no problem running down anybody that was ahead of him for the first half of the race.
But during that last caution period, which began at lap 163, Logano’s crew chief Jeremy Bullins got to thinking. He saw that Kasey Kahne had taken just two tires in his last stop and had continued to run strong despite that. He also saw that Busch had made the call to take four tires while most of the rest of the field took two.
So, at more or less the last possible minute, Bullins made the decision to go with two tires. It was so last-minute that Logano wasn’t even sure if he was supposed to take just two, or wait for four.
“At the end there, we were racing the 5 [Kahne] and the 54 [Busch]. You know the 5 has to take four [tires] because he took two last time. I had a good view of the 54, and as soon as I saw they were taking four, I made the call to take two. A lot of times, you have to make a split decision like that. We saw a bunch of other cars taking two, so we knew we’d have a cushion.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Logano came out first, while Busch came out 10th. It was just too much space with too much traffic for Busch to overcome in just 35 laps.
“We were able to maintain second and third for the first run, and then got up to the lead a little bit,” Logano said. “Really the winning call was that last pit stop, when Jeremy made an audible and called for two tires. We didn’t take two all day, and I don’t think the 54 did either. All we had to judge off of was what Kasey did with two tires before that.”
With hindsight being 20-20, Busch lamented losing the chance to sweep the weekend.
“It was a great race car, but just really unfortunate that I messed up the pit strategy,” said Busch, who ended up fifth. “I wanted four…I wanted the grip. I didn’t want to have to fend everybody off. It is what it is.”
Austin Dillon started on the pole and held his own for the first 35 laps, until Busch finally caught him. A caution returned the lead briefly to Dillon, but Logano jumped out after the restart on lap 53 and held it for 29 laps before the next caution at lap 80, giving it up on a pit stop at lap 82.
Busch took the lead out of that caution and led for 25 laps. Kahne was ahead for 14 laps during two quick cautions that spanned laps 114 to 128, only to see Busch regain it after the second caution. He was running first when Dexter Stacey spun in Turn 4 on lap 163, which was the key caution period to the end of the race.
Brian Vickers was able to jump into second off the restart at 166 and stayed there, earning his best finish of the season.
“We were almost there,” Vickers said. “Pleased but not satisfied is probably the best way to describe it. Great points day, but on the other hand, we want to win and these guys deserve a win. Maybe if we could have gotten out in the lead on the restart, we could have held him off. But starting on the inside was a little bit of a disadvantage on the final restart.”
Matt Kesneth finished third, followed by Trevor Bayne. After Busch, it was Kahne, Sam Hornish Jr., Dillon, Regan Smith and rookie Kyle Larson making up the top-10.
In the points race, Smith and Hornish remained first and second, with Hornish picking up two points. Vickers jumped two spots to third, Justin Allgaier is fourth, and Dillon also jumped two spots to fifth. Parker Kligerman, Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott, Larson and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top-10.
The race had a total of nine lead changes among five drivers, and was slowed by five cautions for 28 laps. Logano won with an average speed of 111.145 mph.