His 300th career start will be a memorable one for Joey Logano. Logano took the lead with 16 laps to go Sunday to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Forced to start in 37th after his crew had to change the transmission in his Penske Ford, Logano used patience and late race pit strategy to score the 18th win of his career holding off his Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the final laps
“I think he was catching me a couple tenths a lap,” Logano said. “That was all I had inside the car and I burned them up early trying to go. I am proud of the effort of the team. We executed under pressure today and brought a car home that was a 5th-10th place car home to victory lane.”
While Logano was methodically working his way through the field all day, Keselowski dominated the second half of the race winning Stage 2, leading a total 110 of the 400 laps most after the halfway mark. He was catching Logano in the closing stages, but ran out of time and settled for second.
The winning move for Logano came during the races ninth caution. Keselowski and Logano had stayed out during a previous caution only three laps earlier as other leaders pitted.
One the restart on lap 379, Logano was part of a three-way battle with Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Logano emerged with the lead. Behind them a four-way battle inside the top 10 ended with Ryan Blaney in the wall and caution nine flying.
Logano lead the leaders in for stops and came out with the lead, but Kyle Busch was one of several drivers who were penalized for a commitment line violation entering the pits. It was a somewhat controversial call as Busch’s view was blocked by the car of Logano. An appeal by the crew fell on deaf ears however and Busch was sent to the rear of the field. He finished the day 16th.
“Balls and strikes,” was all a clearly disappointed Busch could say after the race referring to a judgement call by NASCAR.
Under the final caution six drivers stayed out led by Kyle Larson. They were no match for Logano and those with fresher tires however and Logano again had the lead with 16 laps to go.
“My thought process was, ‘Oh no!’ right after we stayed out,” Logano said. “But we were able to maintain the lead. I don’t think we would have been able to win the race and hold off Kyle (Busch) if it had stayed green. The caution came out. The boys had a great stop which gave us good track position to pass the cars that stayed out.”
From there he was able to nearly cruise to victory holding off Keselowski who was able to survive a furious battle to get second with 11 laps to go. He closed the gap but fell short.
“It was just hoping for another restart or the race to get extended for another 10 laps,” Keselowski said. “I think we had a ton of long run speed today. That short run at the end…half the field came, half the field didn’t. I just got stuck in a lane of cars that didn’t go. By the time I did, he had a whole straightaway on me. I got it down to a couple of car lengths at the end.”
Hamlin was third, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who hit the wall and spun early in the race; was among the six who stayed out and benefited the most finishing fourth, Kevin Harvick fifth.
Matt Kenseth led the first 164 laps from the pole and won the first stage but struggled in the second half of the race losing a tire at one point hitting the wall. He finished 23rd. In his first race since announcing his retirement at the end of the season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran as high as third, after rallying back from a speeding penalty, as he was one of three drivers who stayed out during a round or green flag stops in hopes of a caution. Unfortunately, he was the cause of the caution hitting the wall on lap 341 and cutting a tire. He would later make contact with his teammate Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt finished 30th, Johnson 11th.
Rookie Erik Jones also had a terrible day crashing on lap 6 and bringing out the races first caution. He finished 38th.
Up front Jamie McMurray finished sixth, Ryan Newman who had stayed out with Earnhardt during the green flag pit stop and benefitted from the caution finished seventh. Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top 10.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for next Sunday’s Geico 500.