Joey Logano wasn’t the dominant car Sunday at Kansas. That honor belonged to Kevin Harvick. Harvick led a race high 85 of the 267 laps, Logano led 47.
But most of those 47 laps Logano led came when it counted.
Logano was able to take the lead on the final round of pit stops during what turned out to be the races final caution on lap 222 when Tyler Reddick brought out the yellow after scraping the wall.
Logano came in fifth but came out with the lead. That lead came thanks to a two-tire strategy called by his crew chief Paul Wolfe. It was a risky move considering that earlier in the race, the crew of William Byron tried the same call. Byron pitted during the race’s first yellow, a competition caution on lap 25, and came out with the lead after taking only two tires. Only a few laps after the restart, however, Byron had fallen to ninth.
Polesitter Chase Elliott had a two-tire call but not on purpose. Elliott had radio issues all race long. He was sixth when a caution flew on lap 144 when Matt Kenseth hit the frontstretch wall. With only a few laps remaining in Stage 2 the crew wanted Elliott to stay out, but since he couldn’t hear them on the radio, he pitted. The crew scrambled and put on just two tires. With others staying out, Elliott restarted seventh and finished fifth in Stage 2.
It was during that stage break that Logano’s crew first tried the two-tire call. He came out with the lead but by lap 180 was third, and Harvick was leading by 2.4 seconds, the biggest gap for any leader all race long.
“Through the middle part of the race we kind of had faded there, lost some track position,” Logano’s crew chief Paul Wolfe. “It was very easy to give up on the day. We kind of took two tires there, got ourselves back up into some clean air. The car is not too bad there.”
On two tires, Logano, like others, would fade on the longer runs.
Then came those final stops. Needing track position, and clean air, the two-tire stop put Logano in the lead with 43 laps to go. There would be no more cautions leaving a long green flag run to the end. And forcing Logano to keep Harvick behind him the rest of the way.
“It’s just driving out of that mirror almost the whole time there the last 40 laps,” Logano said after it was over. “It was a long 40 laps, however long that run was.”
Wolfe said he was confident his driver knew what he needed to do over the course of the final laps.
“He’s smart enough,” Wolfe said. “He knew the 4 (Harvick) was a very fast car, especially short run. Seemed to have less drag on his car.
“Obviously, some people call him a good blocker. Whether you want to be good at that or not, he is. In these situations, he knows where to position his car to dirty up the air the most to affect the guy behind him. Especially with this style of racing any more, we ran wide open I think all but a few laps maybe where he had to lift for some lap traffic. I mean, you’re running wide open, just steering your car around the racetrack trying to, like I said, dirty up the air for the 4 to get him in a position where he has to start lifting.”
For Logano, his talent as a blocker was on full display Sunday, as was his skill at racing out of his rear-view mirror.
“There’s obviously a lot that goes into that, especially when you’re racing the 4, whose car was kind of the complete opposite of ours,” Logano said. “He was very fast on the straightaway, where ours is more of a cornering car.”
“When you have clean air in front of you, like Kevin did as well, being so close to the lead, the advantage probably goes to the trimmed car, which is what the 4 has. At that point you just kind of hope for dirty air and tires to wear out a little bit. That’s where our car should start to excel.
“So knowing that in your mind, you try to hold him off for as long as you can. If you can hold off 15 laps or so, maybe it would get a little easier. It didn’t. He hung on there for a long time, was catching me so fast on the straightaways. It was a matter of picking the right lanes when you get there.”
The final battle Sunday was something that was no doubt a thrill for many to watch, but inside the car for Logano it wasn’t fun.
“If I’m being honest, I don’t have fun driving a race car, I have fun winning.,” Logano said. “That’s what I enjoy doing. That’s what that is at this point. If I want to go fun, I’ll go to a go‑kart track and have fun. That’s not what this is about. This is about winning, this is a job, putting food on the table for not only my family but countless others that helped this race team.
“No, I don’t look at it as fun. I look at it as a job to win.”