RICHMOND – Joey Logano emerged as the winner of a wild short-track shootout in the final laps of the Toyota Owners 400 Saturday at Richmond International Raceway. The victory is Logano’s second this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the other coming on April 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Logano made a quick pass for the lead with four laps to go, just moments after he was in the fourth position. Logano benefited from the help of Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who gave leader Matt Kenseth a shot that allowed Logano to make the winning pass on the inside.
Kenseth, Keselowski and Jeff Gordon appeared poised to battle for the win following a restart with nine laps to go. Kenseth went high in an attempt to block Keselowski, who was outside of him and who Gordon thought had the fastest car. Keselowski retaliated, allowing Logano to move past all three cars and into the lead.
“The 20 car (Kenseth) ran me off the racetrack, so I made sure to give him a bump, and that was what Joey needed to win the race,” Keselowski said. “I am happy for his team and everybody at Team Penske.
“I wish it could’ve been me, but that was the way it goes.”
Cup points leader Gordon finished second, with late-charging Kyle Busch third, Keselowski fourth and Kenseth fifth.
“That’s one of the wildest races I’ve seen with 10 laps to go,” Gordon said.
The 400-lap, 300-mile race on the three-quarter-of-a-mile oval at RIR started wildly. Rookie phenom Kyle Larson grabbed his first career Cup pole because qualifying was canceled Friday and he had the fastest first-practice time. But Larson’s tenure as race leader Saturday did not last even to the first turn.
At the drop of the green flag, Larson drove high, perhaps to battle front-row mate Keselowski to the first turn. When Larson moved back down, he spun from contact with Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer might have been the villain here last fall, but it was difficult to blame him for Larson’s spin, because he was only trying to fill the space the rookie left open for him at the bottom.
“I really hate that happened,” Bowyer said of Larson, who finished 16th. “Him and (Keselowski) kind of spun the tires, and I just got such a big run on him when he moved up.
“Then I was like, `OK, I guess I’m going to go to the bottom if you’re going to give me the bottom.’ Then at the last minute, he arced it and I just wasn’t ready for him.
"I tried to get on the brakes and just got into him. I’m so glad he didn’t hit the wall.”
Wild, too was the rash of fires caused by worn tires. When the rubber on the tires frayed and made contact with hot brake rotors, it burst into flames and caused fires in the undercarriage of the cars.
The cars of Bowyer, Cole Whitt and Reed Sorenson were all sidelined by fires, while Ricky Stenhouse had similar trouble but finished the race.
The first half of the race was dominated by Keselowski and Gordon. Keselowski snatched the point from defending race champ Kevin Harvick on the 69th lap, but had a slow pit stop on lap 103 and surrendered the lead to Gordon.
Gordon was impressive throughout, moving to the front after starting 25th. He dominated the race between laps 103 and 300, leading 149 circuits with consistent strength on the long runs.
Gordon led a race-high 173 laps, with Keselowski next at 114, while Kenseth appeared to have the fastest car heading down the stretch after taking the lead for the first time on lap 362. But Logano got the late help from Keselowski he needed to make a breakthrough at a track where he’d averaged a finish of 18th in his 10 previous starts.
“This isn’t a very good racetrack for me in the past, but we had a really good (car) today and we were able to put it in Victory Lane,” said Logano, who virtually clinched a spot in the Chase with his win. “It feels great. I want to start winning some races in the Chase now."