Pit road victory allows Joey Logano to advance to NASCAR’s final four

Geoff Magliocchetti
Oct 18, 2020; Kansas City, Kansas, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) celebrates after winning the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Joey Logano’s well-timed pit stop allowed him to beat out Kevin Harvick at Kansas, making him eligible for the NASCAR Cup Series title.

Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford team showed exactly why NASCAR is a team sport at Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

A caution session with 45 circuits left in the 267-lap event saw Logano’s crew provide the fastest service. He beat out incoming leader Kevin Harvick off pit lane, as well as the final 41 green flag circuits to earn a victory that clinched his spot among the four championship contenders at Phoenix Raceway on November 8.

Logano’s win at Kansas is his third of the season and his first since taking two of the first four races held prior to a COVID-19-induced pause in March…his last win ironically coming at Phoenix. With the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs entering its three-race Round of 8, Logano earned automatic entry to the finale as the Connecticut native seeks his second title over the last three seasons.

If I’m being honest, I don’t have fun driving a race car, I have fun winning,” Logano said after the race. “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.”

En route to his first Cup Series title in 2018, Logano also won the first race of the Round of 8, then held at Martinsville Speedway (which will host the final contest of the round this time). The importance of such a victory was not lost on the 30-year-old.

The weight lifted off your shoulders is only part of it. The ability to start working on your Phoenix car, not worry about your Texas and Martinsville car,” he said. “I don’t want to say that, but you’re 100% focused on one more race.  We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points, you know what I mean? We know we’re in it.”

Logano mostly lingered in the middle portions of the field in the early going, watching Chase Elliott and Denny Hamling win the first two 80-lap stages. After the second stage, Logano and Aric Almirola gambled by taking two tires on the ensuing pit stops. While Almirola (a former playoff driver eliminated after the Round of 12) faded, Logano was set up to run with the leaders. By the time Tyler Reddick brought out the caution by scraping the wall at lap 221, it was clear that Logano and Harvick had the vehicles to beat.

The No. 22 team helped Logano win the fateful race off of pit road before he held off a furious challenge from Harvick over the final segments for the win. Some fans took issue with the current rules package, claiming that it allowed Harvick to catch up to Logano but not take the lead. Logano instead credited his choice of lanes in the final turns around the 1.5-mile tri-oval, as well as the assistance of spotter TJ Majors.

“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,” Logano explained. “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.”

Harvick was denied his 10th win of the season, a mark unattained since Jimmie Johnson pulled off the feat in 2007, but praised Logano for his work over the final laps. He’s currently up 41 points on the championship cutoff.

“Joey did just a good job of putting his car right in front of ours,” Harvick said. With this package, every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away.  We just had a little bit of trouble trying to get the nose to turn when he would take our lane.”

Alex Bowman joined the main duo late to finish third, while Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski came home fourth. Non-playoff driver Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Keselowski is currently the last driver in when looking at the final four picture, up on Elliott (6th), Sunday’s polesitter by eight points. Elliott would be on via points, but was shifted to the outside looking in by Logano’s victory.

The Round of 8 reaches its middle stage next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Elliott recovered to finish sixth after radio problems plagued him in the early stages of the race.

 

  • After winning the second stage, Hamlin made contact with the wall, forcing him to pit road. He eventually recovered to a 15th-place finish and currently holds one of the championship spots by 20 points.

 

  • Prior to the race, the small, socially distanced crowd paid tribute to Kansas native Clint Bowyer, the retiring driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Bowyer, winner of 10 Cup Series races and the 2008 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series title, moved to the front of the field before the green flag flew. Bowyer finished 26th, capping off his Kansas ledger with three top-five and eight top-ten finishes in 25 starts at his home track.

 

  • Playoff driver Kurt Busch’s title chances took a major hit when he lost his engine at lap 198. At 73 points behind the cutoff, Busch more than likely will need to win of the two remaining pre-Phoenix races at Texas or Martinsville to contend for a championship.

 

  • Bowyer’s fellow retiree Matt Kenseth also endured a tough day, bringing out the caution with a wreck at lap 144.

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Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags