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Logano Lights Up Zippo

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 4 2018

Joey Logano got the Xfinity Series victory at Watkins Glen on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Joey Logano persevered through a rainstorm, a red flag stoppage and late-race run for the lead by Penske teammate Brad Keselowski to win Saturday’s 24th annual Zippo 200 at The Glen NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Logano’s path to his third Xfinity Series win on Watkins Glen International’s historic 2.45-mile/11-turn layout was cleared when Keselowski spun while pressuring him for the lead barreling into Turn 1 on Lap 79 of the 82-lap/200.9-mile event.

With “Bad Brad” sliding out of his rearview mirror, Logano pulled away to a 3.362-second margin of victory over runnerup AJ Allmendinger _ like Logano and Keselowski a regular in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Xfinity Series regular Justin Allgaier rounded-out the podium in third.

Logano scored his 30th career Xfinity Series victory in 173 starts after qualifying on-pole Saturday morning. All three of Logano’s Xfinity wins have come from P1. Fittingly, Keselowski started alongside in the two-car front row. The teammates eventually settled into their intramural battle after Logano took the lead from a surprisingly strong Ryan Preece with a bold, three-wide pass on the inside of Turn 1 during a restart on Lap 75.

“I thought that was gonna be my best shot, but I really honestly thought I would have a shot afterwards, so I wasn’t gonna go all-or-nothing,” said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford Mustang. “I was able to have a good restart and dropped to the inside and he braked a little early and I was able to get it all the way door-to-door with him and we barely touched about two-thirds of the exit point of the corner. It was nothing. It was just a small, little touch and it didn’t even upset our cars, it was just a little thing. It’s hard racing at the end and I would expect him to do the same thing to me when he’s trying to win a race. We were going for it.”

Four laps later, the issue became moot when Keselowski put himself into the spin cycle en route to a 10th-place finish in his No. 12 Ford.

“We both overdrove that corner because that was the closest he was in a few laps and I knew he was thinking that was gonna be his chance,” Logano said. “I knew I had to drive in that corner pretty hard or else he was gonna get to the inside of me. I can’t speak for him, but I’m pretty sure he thought he was gonna drive in harder than me wherever I was, and I started braking and thought, ‘Oh no. I’m gonna wheel-hop this thing,’ and I looked in the mirror and saw smoke and a car sideways…‘Well, I guess he got in a little harder even.’

“But we both were just pushing those cars as hard as we possibly could. It was qualifying laps when the green flag dropped and you see how we were able to pull away from a lot of the field. We were just trying so hard. It’s a real testament to the cars and the motors _ we’re revving them out as high as we can, we’re pushing the brakes as hard as we can, we’re sliding these things around doing whatever we can do to beat each other.  We knew we were gonna have a fun, clean race. You know that when you’re racing against your teammate, but I thought I was gonna be able to pull away and I couldn’t.”

The race took on an added element when rain started falling with 11 laps remaining in Stage 2. NASCAR instructed the field to pit for wet weather tires _ a tire that was last run in the series at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2016. Some teams also used the stop to attach a windshield wiper mandated by the sanctioning body for the conditions.

Allmendinger, Logano and Allgaier led the field when the wet track went “green” on Lap 33 _ a stint that ended two laps later when rookie Vinnie Miller plowed his No. 01 teamjdmotorsports.com Chevrolet Camaro off-track and into the Turn 1 tire barrier after losing grip. The race was red-flagged for 10 minutes, 24 seconds to allow the track’s crew to repair the barrier. Stage 2 finished on Lap 40 with Allmendinger, Allgaier and Cup regular Kyle Larson at the point. By that time, the track began to dry and teams changed back to slick tires for the remainder of the race.

That was fine with Logano, a non-fan of racing in the rain. “I’m not very good at it,” Logano said. “I was thinking I raced in Montreal once in the rain and ran decent in it and that was the first time any of us ever raced in it. I think since then a lot of these guys have raced more in the rain and kind of figured out how to do it. I figured I had the best guy in front of me with AJ that I could just follow him and then I couldn’t follow him.  All I was thinking was, ‘Man, I can probably push this thing harder and go faster, but we’re not gonna finish this race in the rain. Let’s just not crash my car at this point and try to keep it in one piece.’

 That was the goal for me at that point, was to try and have a solid finish in it. But I didn’t want to hurt my race car because I knew we had a car that could win the race, so I was just trying to be smart, but it’s tempting. Every time a car goes by you, you kind of go, ‘Ahhh, I need to go a little harder,’ and every lap it gets a little drier so you go a little bit more and a little bit more and you’re just sliding all over.”

The rain also prompted Brian Wilson, Logano’s crew chief, to reconfigure his game plan for a race that began under sunny skies and temperatures in the 80s.

“A couple years ago I was in the rain race at Mid-Ohio and, really, I was just drawing on some of the guys at the shop who had been through it before,” Wilson said. “When we made the adjustments with (Ryan) Blaney a couple years ago, it seemed like it worked OK, so, really, I just applied the same offsets. That’s one nice thing, you think about all the depth that Team Penske has _ we have a lot of sports car background and Indy car, guys that have done it before _ so you can kind of lean on those guys and know what to expect, but we certainly don’t have it perfected. The good news is I don’t think anyone really does.”

Allmendinger’s runnerup result was especially stout, considering NASCAR’s pit road police cited him for pitting outside his box during a green flag stop for fuel only on Lap 52.

“Just a dumb mistake on my part,” said Allmendinger, driver of the No. 23  Chevrolet. “I rolled in and just slid, got the nose over the line and they already had started to refuel. And then I didn’t realize I had to stop and wait a lap. But the Penske cars looked like they could toy with us.”

Allmendinger, whose resume includes open-wheel experience in wet conditions, enjoyed his stint after the unexpected shower. “I hadn’t been in rain race in a long time…and after the first two laps I said, ‘Let it rain.’ I was starting to build confidence. It was fun. Dealing with the elements, that’s what road-racing is all about.”

Allgaier, meanwhile, lost a battle with Allmendiger for second on the final lap after contact moments earlier. “The last restart we had some contact (with Allmendinger) and I thought I was going to spin out,” said Allgaier, driver of the No. 7  Camaro. “I thought I was going to run into him and I didn’t want to run into him for one sport, second or third. Not that I didn’t want to finish second but he did a better job and AJ’s a fantastic road-racer. Still, a solid day.

“These races…today was aggressive but a lot cleaner than what we usually see on road-courses in the Xfinity Series. You didn’t see a whole lot of guys running into each other. We just had a tough time getting by some guys, rolling through the center of the corner and getting off the corner. We had a fast race car…I felt we were the second-best car in the rain behind AJ, and I hate racing in the rain. I was really impressed with the rain tires. From that standpoint I learned a lot. We had a really versatile car, so hopefully we can take that into Mid-Ohio.”

Saturday’s race was the first of three on natural-terrain road-courses for the series this month. Visits to 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, on Aug. 11 and 4-mile Road America layout in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on Aug. 25 are sandwiched around the tour’s annual nighttime extravaganza on Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked/half-mile bull-ring on Aug. 17.

Logano, who won Stage 1, led three times for a race-high 31 laps, five more than Keselowski. Team Penske now has scored seven wins in the Zippo 200 with four different drivers _Ryan Newman (2005), Kurt Busch (2006 and 2011), Keselowski (2013) and Logano (2015, 2016 and 2018).

Preece, who led eight laps, finished fourth in his No. 18 Craftsman Toyota while Aric Almirola was fifth in the No. 98 Ford.

Point-leader Christopher Bell saw his three-race winning streak end with a ninth-place finish in the No. 20 Toyota Camry. However, the Joe Gibbs Racing rookie still leads the championship standings by 22 points over Cole Custer after his sixth-place finish in the No. 00 Ford.

And Bell, who cut his racing teeth on the dirt tracks of Oklahoma and Texas, said competing in the rain was cool.

“The hardest part was seeing and the fast straightaways. You get so much spray,” said Bell, who qualified 11th in his WGI debut. “We were pretty much trying to not run into one another because the spray is so bad, you just can’t see. That was a lot fun. I just wish I would have been faster on the dry when it mattered. My road-course stats haven’t been that good. I need to get more competitive.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 4 2018
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