NASCAR Cup: Joey Logano makes final four with Phoenix win
Joey Logano celebrates in victory lane after winning the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 13, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Joey Logano locked up the third slot in the championship four of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup ahead of the Nov. 20 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a win Sunday in the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Ariz. With the win, he joined Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards as drivers with automatic bids to the championship battle at Homestead by virtue of Chase round of eight wins.
“I love it,” Logano said of his championship chances at Homestead. “We just got back from Texas and has a very fast car there, and it is the same tire and a very similar race track. I can’t wait for next week.”
Kyle Busch finished second to Logano to claim the final championship berth for next weekend.
Kyle Larson, the only non-Chaser in the top-five, finished third, while Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five. Despite the top-five finishes, Harvick and Busch were eliminated from the Chase with the Phoenix checkered flag. For Harvick it was his first Chase elimination since NASCAR went to the format in 2014.
“We just started way too far off on Friday,” Harvick said. “We never got a handle on the race car. They made it a ton better in the race and we were in contention there at the end and just came up short. Just really proud of everybody for the effort that they put in. It was a very challenging Chase for us for all the mechanical failures and situations that we had going on. We kept rebounding and winning races, and today, we were a lap down and came back to have a chance at the end. That says a lot about the character of our race team, and we just came up short this year.”
Joe Gibbs Racing boasted half of the round of eight field with Edwards Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards. Exactly half advance to the championship four, with Hamlin and Kenseth eliminated at Phoenix.
“Such mixed emotions,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “With Matt, I felt so bad for him. He drove his heart out all day long, and it’s just one of those things that happens. You feel so bad for him, Dollar General, DeWalt is on that car, and it’s just a sad day for him. I hate it when something like that happens. On the other side of it, you have Kyle, and it’s a great comeback story for him this weekend, and we’re thrilled for Mars and Interstate Batteries. It’s great for them to be able to go back. I’m thrilled. I walked down the sideline, here, and talked with Carl. It’s great for Arris, and I’m just thrilled for Stanley, who is on that car. Our sponsors get to go to Homestead with a chance to win a championship is a huge deal for us. I’m thrilled. Carl lost one by a point (to Tony Stewart in 2011) and Kyle is going to go for back-to-back. I hate it for Denny and FedEx; we hate that. Just weren’t quite good enough, there, and everything that happened with Matt just makes you sink a little bit.”
Hamlin stayed out while everyone else pitted during a lap 257 caution and, as a result, inherited the lead. When the race restarted, Kenseth took the lead.
“I knew that when I saw we were the only ones to say out, I knew we had an uphill climb, and I still thought we were okay,” Hamlin said. “We singled out second behind the 20 (Kenseth) and, honestly, our lap times cleaned out nice, there, with about 10 laps. We had that caution, and that put me on the bottom on the restart, and I just got shuffled from there. I knew it was going to be an uphill climb. We performed well this round, but not great, and you need to be great to advance.”
Once he got out front, Kenseth pulled away to a four-second lead. His lead was erased, though, when Michael McDowell hit the wall on lap 311, bringing out a yellow flag. When the race restarted, Kenseth wrecked after contact with Bowman that started with contact between Kyle Busch and Bowman.
“It’s really unfortunate and devastating to have the race come down like that,” Busch said. “I got a little bit better restart than the 88 (Bowman) did, and I felt like I had a run on him and had enough that I got to the inside, and if he chopped me, he was going to get wrecked, and that’s what happened, but it carried on into the 20 (Kenseth) and, essentially, I guess I wrecked a teammate. It’s so frustrating an aggravating, and I feel horrible about it. It’s a shame to see it come down like that.”
The cautions from the McDowell and Kenseth wrecks extended the race to a 324-lap distance, and Logano was up front with Busch next to him on the front row for the final restart. They maintained their positions in the final two green-flag laps.
“There was a lot of stress inside the car; believe me,” Logano said. “I wasn’t fast on the long run. I was trying to hold them off. The 18 (Kyle Busch) got by me and the 4 (Harvick) got underneath me a couple times coming there with two to go. I knew it was going to be tight, and we were racing really hard, there. It was need to see how clean Kevin raced me and the 18, as well, there on the last lap. It was a lot of fun.”
Bowman led a race-high 194 laps after starting on the pole at his home track. Logano was the first driver other than Bowman to lead laps, getting by him to take the top spot on lap 93. On lap 120, Jimmie Johnson passed Bowman and Logano, both, to take the lead.
Johnson’s time up front was short-lived, though. He pitted from the lead during a lap 132 debris caution and was penalized for passing the pace car as he entered pit road. He restarted 27th after leading 13 laps.
Johnson’s day went from bad to worse when he was collected in a wreeck that started with a spin by Austin Dillon. As a result, he was forced to the garage to have his radiator replaced.
“The thing, there, was just kind of a minor wreck in front of us and got into the back of the No. 16 (Greg Biffle), and it knocked the fitting of the oil cooler, and we started leaking some oil I think before that was the penalty I received for pulling up to pit, which was mind-blowing,” Johnson said. “In the 15 years I’ve been here, that has never been officiated that way. The leader has always had the ability to pull up and maintain whatever gap they had to the cars behind them. They have never penalized the lead and make the leader stay alongside the pace car. On the majority of the tracks we compete at, you just naturally progress in front of the pace car. So, not to all of a sudden officiate this is mind-blowing to me.”
Martin Truex Jr. also was penalized for an issue with the pace car during pit stops. Truex started in the back after a wreck in practice on Friday prompted his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team to unload the back-up car. Difficulty getting the back-up through inspection resulted in Truex not making a qualifying attempt, putting him in the back for the start of the race.
Truex quickly drove into the top-20 and was in the top-10 by a caution on lap 82. During the caution, he went two laps down after being held by NASCAR officials on pit road for accelerating past the pace car. And like Johnson, Truex also got caught up in a wreck later in the race. He wrecked after contact with Ryan Newman on lap 257.
Upon Johnson’s pit penalty, Logano retook the lead. On lap 157, though, Bowman returned to the top spot and ran there until Hamlin got up front through pit strategy. He wound up sixth at the finish.
“It was a really fun day,” Bowman said. “Greg (Ives, crew chief) and all the guys made great changes all day. We had the best car all day long. Really disappointed.”
Hamlin finished seventh, Ryan Blaney was eighth, Chase Elliott ninth, and Paul Menard was 10th.