Logano's late cool takes Pocono
LONG POND, Pa. -- Joey Logano may have gotten the weight of the NASCAR world off his shoulders with a convincing and exciting victory at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
Could it be that after winning the Pocono 400, the second Sprint Cup Series victory for Logano, he won't have to hear that his job is in jeopardy at Joe Gibbs Racing or that his sponsor -- Home Depot -- would rather have somebody else behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota Camry?
Perhaps this is the turning point for a driver nicknamed "Sliced Bread," a driver tagged for stardom and that moniker at age 15 by the man he beat on Sunday, Mark Martin.
But in a sport that chews up as many would-be stars as it makes, Logano would be the last to take one near-perfect week in Pennsylvania's honeymoon capital for granted, and hopes his detractors took notice.
"I hope it shuts them all up is what I hope," he said. "I tell you what, it just means a lot for this whole team. [Crew chief] Jason Ratcliff, to get his first win for him -- man, it means so much.
"You don't understand. Man, it's just cool."
Anyone who watched the race may understand.
The best driver or car or crew chief in a race doesn't always win. It seems sometimes some drivers -- and Logano has been on the list -- are destined to somehow lose.
Logano had been the class of the field for much of the race, really for much of the time since teams unloaded here for testing on Wednesday. He was one of the fastest drivers in testing, led the final practice Friday and then backed that up by winning the pole Saturday.
He led a race-high 48 of 160 laps Sunday, also his new personal best, but it was what he and Ratcliff did late in the race that sealed Logano's first series win without the help of rain.
With 34 laps to go, Ratcliff made the call to get two tires and fuel and to try to make it last. The longest fuel run in the race to that point had been 32 laps, but many other teams decided to take the same gamble. When two subsequent cautions made the fuel-mileage issue moot, it was up to Logano to win the race.
Up front for the final restart with seven laps to go, Logano got jumped on the outside by Martin and it looked like the race was lost. But Logano patiently waited for his chance, and with four laps to go, Martin gave it to him.
The veteran bobbled going into Turn 3 and Logano got close enough down the long straightaway to take advantage in Turn 1 of the triangular track, moving Martin out of the way to cruise to victory.
"You would call that a bump-and-run, yeah," Martin said. "It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It's not how I would have done it. Certainly, had I had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return."
And there was no denying Logano wanted this one badly. It showed after he won the pole, when he moved Martin out of the way, after he won the race and stood in Victory Lane and when he entered the media center to give his full postrace interview.
"When [Martin] got in front of me, I was trying to get right to him and made a couple of mistakes, and he was driving away a little bit, and then he made a mistake off [Turn] 3, and I was able to get a big run on him there," Logano said. "I went into 1 and tried to out-brake him, and he was protecting the bottom, I was trying to stick my nose in there and we got really close.
"I'm not even sure if we touched each other, but I know I got him 'air-loose' at least and was able to slide up underneath him and clear him."
There may have been a different winner -- and an even more popular one -- but Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in for fuel with 25 laps to go to top off. Earnhardt had been racing near the lead most of the day and led three times for 36 laps. Pitting proved to be the wrong decision, but Earnhardt took it in stride and made sure to back up his crew chief, Steve Letarte.
"Well, we just didn't want to run out of gas," Earnhardt said. "I didn't know the caution flags were going to be so long. And they were long enough to help them guys make it on fuel.
"We're not taking those kinds of chances just yet."
The repaved track drew universal raves from drivers, but despite the race being shortened by 100 miles, it still proved tough on equipment. One victim was Greg Biffle, who came into the race leading the points and left it in third, 16 points back, after engine issues relegated him to a 24th-place finish Sunday.
"We've been on the edge with these engines all year and it's just such a fine line with oil temperature, and you come here shifting and it just didn't make it," Biffle said. "It's unfortunate.
"It's a good thing we just lost a cylinder and could make it to the finish."
Biffle's teammate Matt Kenseth took over the points lead with Earnhardt moving up to second, 10 points back.
Logano moved up to 15th in the standings, but with the victory is much closer to Chase contention than he was before the race. As of now, he would be the first driver out, but a few more solid runs and another victory and that could change. And that may mean he really doesn't have to worry about his future in this, a contract year.
"Obviously winning a race means a lot and it helps that out a ton," he said. "It's a perfect time, and I think us teaming up with Jason this year has been a really big help for me and it's paying off."
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