Joey Logano kept the Joe Gibbs Racing streak alive.
Fighting off challenges from a succession of rivals, Logano, the Coors Light Pole Award winner, gave JGR its eighth consecutive Nationwide Series victory at Auto Club Speedway in winning the Royal Purple 300 by 1.066 seconds over runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The victory was Logano’s first of the season, second at Fontana and the 10th of his career. Logano is the first Sprint Cup Series regular to win a Nationwide race this season.
“It’s important to keep the streak going,” said Logano, who survived a wild restart with 12 laps left and pulled away for the win. “You don’t want to be the guy who didn’t win it and broke the streak. Obviously, it makes me work extra hard — not that we don’t work hard any other weekend; we try to win every one of them — but to keep a streak going like that is important for our whole company.”
Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Brian Scott and rookie Austin Dillon. Brad Sweet, Kenny Wallace, Kyle Busch, series leader Elliott Sadler and Brendan Gaughan completed the top 10.
After debris punctured the radiator of her No. 7 Chevrolet, Danica Patrick retired with an engine failure and finished 35th.
By the time Sam Hornish’s wild spin in Turn 4 brought out the second caution of the race on Lap 91, Logano had led 54 laps, but the yellow flag bunched the field and made for dramatic racing at the front.
Logano, Stenhouse, Busch, Gaughan and Allgaier all made runs at the top spot before a caution for debris in Turn 4 on Lap 104 slowed the field and brought a round of pit stops for the lead-lap cars.
Busch, who restarted sixth on Lap 109, was the only driver exiting pit road in the top 10 who took tires on the pit stop. Busch’s crew chief, Mike Beam, opted for right-side rubber, while the cars that restarted ahead of him took fuel only.
Within three laps, Busch was in the lead, passing Logano for the top spot on Lap 112, with Keselowski in pursuit. The 2009 Nationwide champion kept the 2010 Nationwide champion at bay until Lap 125, when Keselowski moved around him for the lead.
Logano soon rejoined the battle and took over the top spot on Lap 129, a position he held until Blake Koch’s Lap 133 spin in Turn 4 necessitated the fourth caution and set up a final round of pit stops, with Trevor Bayne leaving pit road with the lead, thanks to a two-tire call.
A slow pit stop cost Busch 14 positions, but he rallied to post the first top-10 finish of the season for his new Nationwide team. Bayne gave way to drivers with fresher rubber and came home 14th.
“For me, this is one of the best Nationwide races of the year,” Keselowski said. “You see a lot of really good action here, the way the track has worn in over time. And the way the cars are with really low power, they can seemingly draft very well and do some really cool maneuvers.
“Like I said, I think this is one of the best Nationwide races of the year — every year, not just this year — at least from my view.”