After reclaiming the lead from veteran Mark Martin on Lap 157 of 160, Logano pulled away to win the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR at Pocono Raceway, his first Sprint Cup Series victory since a rain-shortened win at New Hampshire in 2009.
More important, the second triumph of Logano’s career couldn’t have come at a better time — during a contract year in which doubters have considered the 22-year-old a prime candidate to lose his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to a more established star.
“I hope it shuts ‘em all up,” was Logano’s terse wish for his critics after he climbed from his winning No. 20 Toyota.
Logano, who gave successful former NASCAR Nationwide Series crew chief Jason Ratcliff his first Cup win, beat Martin to the finish line by .997 seconds, the first time in 31 Sprint Cup events a driver has won from the pole. Tony Stewart ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.
The race was vindication for Logano in another respect. He had claimed his other Cup win by staying on the track and hoping for rain when stronger cars came to pit road.
The gamble paid off, but winning a race in the rain paled in comparison to crossing the finish line under full power ahead of 42 other cars. In fact, Logano said Sunday’s victory felt like his first Cup win.
“To me, it does,” he acknowledged. “The first win came — it came soon, it came under rain delay — so this is a different feel. But when you cross the line, and you’ve won the race, it’s, like I said earlier, it’s an amazing feeling. It’s amazing how much more it means than a Nationwide win.
“Not to take anything away from that, those Nationwide wins are a lot of fun, but I think Jason knows when you’re racing against the best race car drivers with the best race teams out there, and to be able to beat them is — it’s, to me, the best of the best out here.”
In a bizarre race that featured 22 pit road speeding penalties — a record for a Cup race — Matt Kenseth ran seventh and took over the series lead by 10 points over second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came home eighth after leading 36 laps, second only to Logano’s 48.
When NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race after Kasey Kahne pounded the Turn 2 wall on Lap 37, Earnhardt — short on fuel — brought his Chevrolet to the pits for gas only, while Logano, Martin, Hamlin, Stewart and Kenseth remained on the track.
Earnhardt restarted 16th and worked his way back to eighth before Logano took the checkered flag.
In the closing laps, Logano and Martin stepped up the level of drama on the racetrack. Martin grabbed the lead with an aggressive move to the outside in Turn 1, after a restart on Lap 153.
For the next four laps, Logano chased the man who eight years ago had tabbed him a future Cup champion. As the drivers completed Lap 156, Logano pulled even near the start/finish line and cleared Martin’s Camry through Turn 1.
“Went into 1 and tried to outbrake him, and he was protecting the bottom,” Logano said. “I was trying to stick my nose in there, and we got really close, and I’m not even sure if we touched each other or not, but I know I got him aero-loose at least and (was) able to slide up underneath him and clear him by the time he got off of (Turn) 1.
“Making sure I cleared him was a very important moment. You start side-drafting down those straightaways and the 14 car (Stewart) is going to be there ready to pounce before you knew it. To clear him, get through (Turn) 2 and get a little distance on him was very important.”
To Martin, who thought there was contact between the cars, Logano’s winning move was an accepted part of the sport, but not one he would use himself.
“Well, I’d call that a bump-and-run,” Martin said. “It’s been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It’s not how I would have done it, but certainly, if I’d have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return (bump). But I couldn’t quite keep up with him.
“It was great racing, and everybody does what they’re . . . what they decide to do. It was a great race, and I’m very, very proud of my race team for putting me in something that would give me a shot. I’m having fun. Maybe next week we’ll be the ones with the trophy.”
Notes: Greg Biffle’s No. 16 Ford suffered engine issues late in the race. Biffle finished 24th and fell from first to third in the series standings, 16 points behind Kenseth, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate.