Joey Logano had one of those days he hasn’t experienced too often in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing – especially at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Anytime you have a car that’s that fast, you hope nothing goes wrong,” said Logano, who won Sunday’s Bank of America 500 in convincing fashion. “It’s rare you have a perfect day in racing. Over 500 miles, something is going to go wrong. But (Sunday) everything went as planned.”
It was Logano’s first victory in 14 career Cup races at Charlotte. More significantly, Logano clinched a spot in the third round of the Chase with the triumph, which came in the opening race of the second round.
And on a day during which the ambitions of at least three other Chase drivers took serious hits, Logano cruised. He led 227 of 334 laps and finished .7 seconds ahead of runner-up Kevin Harvick. Martin Truex Jr. was third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.
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Other Chase drivers weren’t so fortunate, including Kyle Busch (20th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (28th) and pole-winner Matt Kenseth (42nd). They are all in the bottom four (the top eight of 12 Chase drivers advance to the third round) of the standings, along with Ryan Newman.
“The pressure that a lot of these drivers are going to have, we had on us when this race started,” Loganov said. “To get through to the next round is big. To be able to have that pressure off of us and to be able to relax and enjoy this next round … that’s going to pay big dividends.”
It was the fourth victory of the season for Logano. For at least one week, the attention swings away from 2014 champion Harvick, who has had the fastest car in the series over the past month.
Harvick clinched a spot in the second round last week at Dover with a victory that was as dominant as Logano’s was Sunday.
“There are 42 other cars we have to beat,” Logano said. “But when a team like (Harvick’s) has a race like it did last week, you have to be able to pick up your game and show you can beat them. We knew that coming in. Winning races is such a big deal, but when you get to the Chase, it’s a little harder.”
The Chase fates of Kyle Busch, Earnhardt and Kenseth are less secure and depend on how well they can recover this week at Kansas and then at Talladega.
Busch was running third when he and Kyle Larson had a bizarre accident entering pit road. Larson, who was second, made a late decision to come in and turned sharply onto pit road. Busch had started to pit, but changed his mind and tried to veer back on the track. The two hit each other.
“What the ... was (Larson) thinking?” Busch said on his radio.
Earnhardt’s problems began early in the race when he was rear-ended by Carl Edwards and hit the wall. Earnhardt would hit the wall at least two more times, one of them when his No. 88 Chevy slid through what he said was oil on the track.
Then there was Kenseth, who after making contact with Ryan Newman early, struggled all afternoon. He eventually blew a right front tire, hit the wall, and left the race after 236 laps.
That was the kind of trouble Logano was able to avoid all day. He said he stayed safely on the bottom groove of the 1.5-mile track.
“Just like a catfish, I was always on the bottom,” he joked.
Logano also won the first race of the 2014 Chase’s second round. He went on to make the final four at Homestead, Fla., where Harvick won the title.
“Last year we did an incredible job getting ourselves to Homestead,” Logano said. “I feel like the lessons we learned were in Homestead, so we’ve got to get back to that race, get back in the same position we were last year, and I feel like we’ll be in a lot better shape because we all lived it once and know what we’ve got to do.
“We can’t rely on the speed we had today, because tomorrow it might not be there. There are going to be cars that are going to dominate each week.
“We have to be that car more often than not.”