It wasn’t decided until after the end of the scheduled 312 laps but when the smoke cleared, Joey Logano scored his first career win at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday and secured his spot in this year’s Championship 4 at Homestead.
“What a fun race,” Logano said. “That last restart was crazy. I knew it was going to be and there were a ton of scenarios playing out with the 4 and 18 and myself and the restart before that with the 20 up there. Everyone was racing for a championship.”
Logano led 58 laps on the day, but wasn’t leading as laps wound down. That honor belonged to Matt Kenseth who led 58 laps of the 312 and was firmly in control. The race was for the final Chase spot behind between Logano, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. With 10 laps to go, it was a three way battle with Busch having the edge. Logano was in the Chase however with Busch out on a tiebreaker and Kenseth leading.
It all came apart for Kenseth with two laps to go. Michael McDowell hit the wall exiting turn 2 after losing a tire and caution 8 flew and set up a green-white checkered flag finish.
On the restart Kenseth led from the outside with Alex Bowman, who led the most laps of the day, 194, on the inside. Bowman spun his tires; Kyle Busch just behind him pushed Bowman into the turn. Kenseth, perhaps not aware that Bowman was beneath, came down and made contact with Bowman. Kenseth spun into the turn 1 wall and crashed, bringing out the races ninth and final caution and ending his hopes for the win and a shot at the 2016 Sprint Cup title. Kenseth would finish 21st.
“I mean, I will go talk to the 20 (Kenseth) and explain what happened,” Bowman said. “I feel bad, but there was really nothing I could do. You get defensive there into turn one and his spotter cleared him because he just drove across the nose like he thought he was clear. It’s unfortunate and I hate that. Maybe I just got in there too deep but I was against the inside wall when we made contact.”
On the second attempt at a green-white-checkered, Logano shot to the lead, Kyle Busch fell into second. Behind Kyle Larson, and Kevin Harvick dueled for third with Larson taking third by the end of the first lap. That’s where he stayed as Logano charged to victory. With the win, Logano took one of the two remaining spots in the Championship 4.
“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 neat to see how clean Kevin raced me and the 18 as well there on the last lap. It was a lot of fun.”
With his second place finish and the crash by Kenseth, Kyle Busch secured the final spot as the only driver to do so on on points. He wasn’t exactly jumping for joy after the race however.
“Right now it feels pretty shitty, but tomorrow it might feel a lot better,” Busch said. “I’m not sure, depends on what Matt’s interpretation is and whether or not he can forgive. You know, I just feel really bad about what happened there on that last restart. It just wasn’t what I anticipated having happen, and I just feel bad. The 20 (Kenseth) should have been the Gibbs car to go through, and I was just trying to make a position there on the 88 (Bowman), felt like I was to his inside and had the position.”
Harvick was fourth behind Larson, but only a win would move him to the title race in Homestead. For the first time since the elimination format began, Harvick, the 2014 champion, won’t be racing for a title.
“We just started way too far off on Friday,” Harvick said. “We never got a handle on the racecar. 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.”
Kurt Busch was fifth. He came in at the bottom of the Chase but only a win would advance him.
Bowman was impressive but could only rally for a sixth after the chaos of the final two restarts. Denny Hamlin was seventh followed by Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Paul Menard rounding out the top 10.
Jimmie Johnson, who had already secured his spot in the Championship 4, led 13 laps after fighting his way up from his 17th place starting spot. While leading during a round of pit stops under caution however, NASCAR penalized for passing the pace car while heading to pit lane. He was held a lap. He was later involved in a crash that sent him to the garage and left him with a 38th place finish, 28 laps down.
Carl Edwards, also secure for Homestead, never contended for the win and finished 19th. Martin Truex Jr. who started last on the field ran inside the top 10 at one point, but like Johnson was penalized for passing the pace car getting into the pits. He would lose two laps and later suffered a hard crash that him 40th, with a DNF. The full results can be found here.
The final race of the season will be next Sunday with the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Live coverage will be on NBC with the green flag coming just after 2:30 p.m. ET.
“This wasn’t just a race.,” Logano said. “This was for a shot at the championship next week. The 22 car is going there and we have a hell of a shot at it. ”