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Logano Wins Kansas, Becomes True Contender

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 5 2014

Joey Logano opened the Contender Round of the Chase with a big victory. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Joey Logano capitalized, first, on a fast car, and, second, on trouble by others with fast cars Sunday at Kansas Speedway to win the Hollywood Casino 400 Sprint Cup race.

The victory was the fifth of the season for Logano but better than that, it guaranteed that he and his Team Penske group would advance to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship playoffs in three weeks.

Asked what the victory meant to him, Logano said, “It makes Talladega (the dreaded x-factor race two weeks from Sunda) a lot easier, that is for sure. To know we are onto the next round we can focus on a few more races coming up and we will keep trying to capitalize like we are doing.”

To get the victory, Logano had to hold off rooke Kyle Larson, who finished second and who kept the pressure after the final restart of the race, which came with 28 laps to go.

“I took off tight and it was kind of a cat and mouse game,” Logano said. “He was a little faster at certain points in the run and I was faster late in the run and toward the end he was hitting his stride. I had to take his air away. I was running that top and that was also the lane for him which is what held him up from getting to us. I worked the traffic perfectly and didn’t lose momentum to give up the lead.”

But it was trouble suffered by fellow Chasers like Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and teammate Brad Keselowski that made Logano’s job just a bit easier.

Several had tire problems and some ended up taking on – and losing to – the Kansas walls. Much to Logano’s delight.

“Yeah,” he said, “when I see other Chase guys having troubles, that’s when you say, holy cow, this is really about a solid finish here today you know how the race goes second, third, fourth, fifth-place finish would be great. It sets you up pretty good for getting to the next round. But you dangle a checkered flag in front of me, I’m going to go. We were able to have a fast enough car that I knew we could do it. I wasn’t going to put my car in a bad spot but I was going to be aggressive about it and try to put other people in a bad spot to make those passes. We were able to do that today.

“So you think about it, you see other cars that are having trouble, guys you know you are going to be racing for this championship with and it goes through your mind, but at the same time you’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, and that’s been trying to win the race and not points racing, so we’ll keep trying to do that.”

Not, oddly, having trouble was Kyle Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver who has had major disasters at Kansas and calls the place his least favorite track, finished third.

“Mile-and-a-halves haven’t been our strong suit this year,” Busch said. “I think our best finish was a third at Kentucky. We know we have some work to do in our program. Those two guys up front just left us – they were flat out flying today. I’m sure there were a couple other cars that were good to finish third, fourth, fifth – we were about sixth or seventh, but we’ll take a third.

“It feels good to come out of here, especially at Kansas with a top-five here. I think for me, it’s all about places widening out. You have to have options and places that you run one lane along the bottom — Michigan, here — until they’re seasoned, they’re just no fun. It’s just follow the leader. Here today it was all over the place. I’m actually shocked we got up to the wall today. Pretty impressive, it’s fun to do and again, great job by my guys.”

Harvick started the race from the pole and began pulling away from everybody but Logano. By Lap 10, Harvick was over 3 seconds ahead of third-place Brian Vickers and about a half second ahead of Logano.By Lap 17, Harvick was putting back markers a lap down.

About 35 laps in, Missouri native Jamie McMurray, who started 14th, began to reel Harvick in. On Lap 44, McMurray took the lead.

A lap later, green-flag stops began. When the pitting cycled through, McMurray’s lead over second-place Harvick was just under 3 seconds.

McMurray still had the lead on Lap 70 when debris brought out the first caution of the day.

On the Lap 75 restart, Earnhardt Jr. went underneath both Harvick and McMurray on the back stretch to take the lead.

Earnhardt would lead 45 laps but on Lap 122, he blew a tire and slammed the wall.

Taking over at the front was Logano.

Logano and Harvick traded the lead several times over the next 80 or so laps. But on Lap 202, rookie Larson passed him for second place and from there, the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevy of Harvick began to slide backward. By Lap 210, he was 3.8 seconds behind Logano.

“Can’t run the top,” Harvick told his crew over the radio. “Too loose. Chattering the tires on the bottom.”

Ahead of Harvick, Larson began to cut into Logano’s advantage. He got it down under a second.

On Lap 214, Harvick began to slow with a flat right-front tire. He pulled into the pits and his shot at his first victory since Darlington in April were over.

With 39 laps to go, green flag stops began. But just as they did, Greg Biffle blew a tire and out came caution flag No. 7.

The leaders came in. Coming out first was Ryan Newman, who took just two tires. Behind him were the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Logano was fourth.

With four fresh tires, Logano quickly moved to second place. As he was moving on Newman, Kasey Kahne hit the wall to bring out the eighth caution.

Onthe restart with 28 laps to go, Logano moved to the lead past Newman. Once out front, he had to hold off Larson. He did. He won.

“It was a good race,” Larson said. “I thought me and Joey (Logano, race winner) were dead even there at the end. It was hard for me to gain on him. We would go within a hundredth of each other it seemed like on every lap. I was able to close on him at one point, but just couldn’t do anything. The bottom was a lot slower than the top, so I had to kind of follow him and hope he made a mistake. He almost made one mistake there with seven to go and then he got back into rhythm. Good finish. We’ll get some wins here soon hopefully before the end of the year, and I think once we get one, we should be up here more often as a winner.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 5 2014
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