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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Joey Logano was one of those Sprint Cup drivers coming into Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 knowing he needed a win soon or he could forget about making the Chase.
Starting from the pole, leading early, falling back and then rolling to the front with a bold move to the bottom of the track from third on the race's final restart, Logano injected new life in his season with a convincing victory at Michigan International Speedway.
"When you are starting third on the inside lane, you are pretty much in trouble," he said. "You can't really do much. I was able to get a good run on the 29 [Kevin Harvick, who restarted second], and I took advantage of that opportunity.
|Joey Logano won Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 from the pole for his third career Sprint Cup victory.|
"I knew if I followed him through Turn 1, I was going to get freight-trained and be pretty far back. It is just cool to be in Victory Lane."
While Logano is still on the outside looking in to make the playoffs -- which start at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 15 -- the view certainly looks better.
He needs to run strong Saturday at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC), then at Atlanta on Labor Day Weekend and finally at Richmond the week after to make Sunday's victory really pay off. Logano is up to 13th in the standings, but even with the visit to Victory Lane, he is behind Kasey Kahne in 11th with two wins and Martin Truex Jr. in 12th with one win.
"I think the key is being consistent," Logano said. "It is something Todd [Gordon, crew chief] and I talk about before each weekend on how we will approach the weekend and how aggressive we need to be. We decided we needed a win a couple of weeks ago. So we got one. That is what we wanted to do. We should decide to get more wins. Maybe we will win more.
"We were trying to figure out how aggressive we needed to be, and I am sure it is a conversation we will have this week. As long as we are consistent and keep knocking off top-10s like this team has been doing -- if we get another win, yeah, it will really help us, but [this victory] is definitely a great help for our Chase hopes."
As the race wound down, it looked like Logano was going to have a good day, not a great one. His boyhood idol, Mark Martin, had a lead of nearly half a second, but as is so often the case at Michigan, he was stretching fuel mileage to try to make it to the finish.
Logano, tight on fuel but expecting to make it, was furiously running Martin down but had to worry about Harvick coming up from behind.
Martin's gambit came to an end with three laps to go when his tank ran dry just before the entrance to pit road and he came in for a splash-and-go.
With clean air in front of him, Logano easily held off Harvick and sailed to the third victory of his career and first since the first race at Pocono in 2012, 44 starts ago.
"[I] went for it, backfired a little bit as we got three-wide and lost some track position," said Harvick, who has won twice this season. "I didn't think we were going to be racing [Martin] there for the win. I thought if we could just get out of Turn 2 in second, we'd be in good shape.
"Got a little bit greedy and lost a couple of spots there. That's what ultimately cost us the win."
The race had serious Chase implications up and down the top 15 in the standings, perhaps the biggest for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led the race for 20 laps before a blown right-front tire ruined his day and relegated him to a 36th-place finish.
Now he is only 20 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne in the standings and still winless on the season. How concerned is he?
"I feel pretty good," he said. "I've been in tighter situations. I think if we just run as good as we can, we will be fine. We are not an 11th-place team."
Defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski didn't have as bad a day as Earnhardt, but the frustration is rising after he finished 12th in a race he led twice for a total of 17 laps.
"Oh yeah, it is the same deal every week," said Keselowski, who is eighth in points but only eight points ahead of 11th. "The yellows [caution flags] fall exactly the wrong way to screw up our strategy.
"That can't keep going that way. It's like blackjack; you aren't going to keep turning 15 or 16 on every hand. Eventually, you are going to turn a good hand. We just didn't catch it today."
And it was another ho-hum day for winless Jeff Gordon, whose Chase hopes faded further with a 17th-place finish that puts him 26 points out of the top 10 and in 14th place.
Ryan Newman has his win from Indy, but he finished 13th Sunday and is now the fourth driver in the wild-card pecking order with Logano leapfrogging him.
Kurt Busch jumped up to ninth in the standings with a third-place finish and continues to see his team compete at a high level without getting victories.
He perhaps summed up best what many are thinking as the Race to the Chase enters its final stages.
"The biggest thing is just staying out of trouble," he said. "Bristol, trouble can happen at any corner. There's going to be 500 laps that we have to perform there next week where we have to protect our car and still finish well.
"… There's still just three weeks to go where we could get in a little fender bender, some itty-bitty thing happen, and that will put us on the outside. Excuse me if my blinders are on."