With Kevin Harvick hounding him mercilessly for 63 laps, Joey Logano kept his No. 22 Team Penske Ford out front after taking the lead on a Lap 438 restart and held on to win Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Successfully defending last year’s victory at Thunder Valley, Logano won his third race of the season, his second at the .533-mile short track and the 11th of his career.
Harvick recovered from two pit road speeding penalties to finish second, a mere .220 seconds behind Logano. Polesitter Denny Hamlin ran third, and Clint Bowyer got a much-needed fourth place result in his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
It was a fascinating Chase over the final 63 laps, as Harvick would bury his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet into the corner at the top of the track, catch Logano in the turns and watch as Logano dived to the bottom on corner exit and pull away.
“There’s not much time to look in the rearview mirror, but I realized how different his line was than mine,” Logano said. “He’d drive in so hard and almost get to my back bumper, and then I’d drive off really good.
“It’s kind of interesting to watch a race like that, when two cars are a similar speed, but in two completely different ways. That’s what’s so fun about Bristol is you can drive the car about five or six different ways and make it fast, so it’s fun to race here.”
Harvick said Logano’s ability to diamond the corner gave the Ford an advantage when it came to working traffic.
“He was just one step ahead of me in traffic,” Harvick said. “I couldn’t get my car to rotate across the center like I needed it to, and every time I tried to force it, it would snap the back out. He was able to go in really high and before the center of the corner drive down the corner and I was just having to wait just a split second to be able to put the throttle back down, and I couldn’t do that, that huge diamond all the way to the bottom like he could, and that was really beneficial for him through traffic…
“He was able to get those huge runs up off the exit of the corner and just stayed one step ahead of me through traffic, I felt like, and in clean air we probably were a little faster, but it didn’t really matter. I had to be in front of him to show that.”
Brad Keselowski came home fifth, followed by Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 192 laps but was hit with a pit road speeding penalty on his last stop under yellow on Lap 432.
Logano took over from there and racked up 176 laps out front in a race that saw 14 lead changes among five drivers. The runner-up finish was Harvick’s 10th of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished ninth, followed by Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray, who solidified their positions in the fight for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berths on points. McMurray and Newman are 10th and 11th in the standings, respectively, the highest-scored drivers without a victory this season.
Given that there have been only 11 different winners in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this year, at least three drivers are certain to qualify for the Chase on points.
Kyle Busch, a four-time winner and 29th in the standings, also moved closer to locking up a Chase berth, padding his advantage to 46 points over 31st-place Cole Whitt. Busch, who missed the first 11 events of the season because of injury, must remain in the top 30 for the next two races to qualify for the Chase.
Busch wasn’t pleased when NASCAR flagged him for the speeding penalty, but he made a masterful drive from the rear of the field to eighth place.
“I was proud of Kyle, keeping his cool and getting back up, because I think that gave us some more points, some more cushion there,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “I think he’s doing a really good job of focusing and not losing his poise.”