Joey Logano won his first career short track race Saturday night taking the lead in a maddening 10-lap dash to the finish to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Logano had led 46 laps earlier but was fourth when the final restart came with six laps to go. Matt Kenseth had the race well in hand prior to the final restart but began to battle Logano’s Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski for the top spot. As the two dueled, Logano was able to shoot by on the inside and hold on for his fifth career win.
Jeff Gordon was a distant second, Kyle Busch was third, Keselowski fourth with Kenseth setting for fifth.
Rookie Kyle Larson led to the green but stayed there only until turn one when Clint Bowyer dove underneath and spun him. Larson suffered no damage, but was forced to pit and rejoined the field at the tail end of the field. Larson would recover to finish 16th.
“I really hate that happened,” Bowyer said later. “I really like Kyle (Larson) and I’m a big fan of his. Him and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) kind of spun the tires and I just got such a big run him when he moved up. Then I was like, ‘Okay, 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 arched it in 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. I was afraid he hit the wall and ended his night. It certainly didn’t help it at all.”
Keselowski led on the restart, with Bowyer falling in close behind in second. Kevin Harvick was able to get by Bowyer for second place on lap 22. Kasey Kahne slid by Bowyer shortly after to take over third. By lap 30 Harvick has caught Keselowski with Kahne close behind. On lap 32 Harvick was able to slip by underneath heading into turn 2 for the lead, Kahne followed for second.
A competition caution came out on lap 40 just as Kahne tried to go for the lead. Harvick was able to hold him off as the caution flew and led off pit road after stops; Kahne was second, Keselowski third. Harvick led to the green on lap 47 and was soon checking out. Behind him Kahne and Keselowski dueled for second. Keselowski cleared Kahne and by lap 53 was moving towards the lead. On lap 56 Keselowski was able to power by Harvick for the top spot.
The third caution of the race came out on lap 99 for debris. The caution came just after Bowyer had pitted under green with a tire going down. Gordon led off pit road Harvick was second, Dale Earnhardt Jr. third. The green came back out on lap 106 and Gordon was able to shoot to the lead. By lap 109 Keselowski was back up to third. By 155 Gordon had stretched his lead out to just over a second and Keselowski had settled into a solid second.
Bowyer suffered more tire issues on lap 160 and was forced to pit just as the fourth caution came out for debris at the entrance to pit road. Cole Whitt who had lost a tire a few laps earlier, came back out after pitting but the right front wheel was on fire and he was forced back in. Bowyer too had flames coming out and left pit road with a small fire that turned into a bigger fire that went out, but forced him back in. The crew had to push the car to the garage and Bowyer was done for the night finishing 43rd.
Gordon kept the lead after pit stops, Keselowski remained in second, Logano was third, Harvick fourth. The restart came on lap 171 and Gordon was able to push his way back to the front. Keselowski remained close and on lap 173 went back to the lead. Logano was soon fighting Gordon was second. Logano was able to get by for second on lap 175. By the halfway point, lap 200, Keselowski had a one second lead over Logano.
Gordon was able to move his way up and back to the lead on lap 208. Keselowski was falling back and was soon in fourth. It wasn’t long before Gordon’s lead was just over once second over Logano.
The fifth caution came out on lap 227 when Whitt and Reed Sorenson both lost tires. Gordon won the race off pit road, Logano was second, Earnhardt Jr. was third.
The restart came on lap 238 and Gordon was able to shoot to the lead chased by Logano. Logano was able to catch Gordon and pass him for the lead on lap 243. Gordon never lost touch though and by lap 253 was back around Logano for the lead. Earnhardt Jr. got by Logano for second on lap 280. Jimmie Johnson started to fall back with possible tire issues and was forced to pit on lap 291. Up front, Earnhardt began to cut into Gordon’s lead but on lap 295 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost a tire and hit the wall the sixth caution came out. The leaders came in for stops with Earnhardt just beating Gordon out to take the lead.
The green came back out on lap 303 with Earnhardt able to move to the front. Logano was able to get past Gordon for second and a lap later to the lead, teammate Keselowski came with him and took over second, Earnhardt fell to third then to fourth a few laps later when Gordon was able to get by.
Gordon was better on the long runs and that was the case as on lap 323 he had caught Keselowski and was looking for second, by lap 300 he went past in second and headed towards the front. Earnhardt followed and took third from Keselowski. On lap 338 Gordon retook the lead from Logano. Matt Kenseth soon made his presence known and was in third with 50 laps to go. On lap 344 Kenseth took over second from Earnhardt. It wasn’t long before Kenseth was creeping up on leader Gordon. On lap 361 Gordon gave up the lead to Kenseth.
With 34 to go, Johnson lost a right front tire and a caution soon followed. The sixth caution was the last one the field needed to make it to the end. Kenseth won the race off pit road with Gordon nearly second. At the last moment however, Gordon stopped and let Earnhardt Jr. past assuring himself that he would start third and on the inside.
The restart came with 25 laps to go. Kenseth took the lead but it lasted only lap before the seventh caution came out when Denny Hamlin was spun after contact with Brian Vickers. The leaders stayed out with Kenseth keeping the lead, Earnhardt second, Logano third and Gordon fourth. The restart came with 18 laps to go. Kenseth shot to the lead with Earnhardt close behind. It was three wide behind them and when it sorted out, Gordon was in third. A blown engine from JJ Yeley brought out the eighth caution with 15 to go just as the field started to settle down.
There were 10 laps to go when the green flag flew. Kenseth led, Earnhardt was second, Gordon and Logano were third and fourth. Keselowski shot to third while Kenseth fought Gordon. Keselowski soon shot to second on the outside and was looking for the lead as the laps wound down. Keselowski briefly took the lead but soon the fight was on and Keselowski slipped up towards the wall and Logano shot to the lead. Kyle Busch came to third with four fresh tires as Gordon settled into second.
“I got to second right away there on that last restart and actually felt like I was a little bit better than Matt (Kenseth), just trying to find a way by him,” Gordon said. “Then the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) came on the outside which was a great move. His car was just super-fast also on the short runs. Then he moved Matt up which I was happy about so I got underneath Matt, but I about lost it getting into (Turns) 1 and 2, got a little bit loose underneath him. At that point I had to fall back to third and then the No. 22 (Joey Logano) came in there. It was a great battle.”
With one to go Logano had stretched his lead out and motored to victory. He is the second driver to score two victories this season, having won his first race of the season at Texas two races prior.
“This is so cool to win two races already this season,” Logano said. “It is just going to be one heck of a season and I can’t wait to get to the race track next week.”
Behind fifth place Kenseth, AJ Allmendinger was sixth, Earnhardt seventh, Ryan Newman eighth with Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. rounding out the top ten.
“I’m disappointed I didn’t get them the win,” Kenseth said. “I did everything I could do. We were good on the first restart and I thought we were going to have it and the second restart we were good and I thought we were going to have it again, and on the third cycle on the tires I just couldn’t go. Being in clean air I just couldn’t get the nose to cut and I couldn’t get the back to hook up and couldn’t go anywhere.”
Gordon is still winless but maintains his points lead with Kenseth second Edwards third, Kyle Busch fourth and Earnhardt Jr. fifth.
“Normally I'd be ecstatic with leading the points and where we're at and consistency,” Gordon said. “But right now those wins are just so important. I mean, I'd rather be 12th in points right now with three wins than be leading the points.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to Talladega Superspeedway for next Sunday’s Aarons 499.