NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. – Congratulations, Joey Logano. You just drew the first get-out-of jail-free card for Talladega.
With a dominating victory in Sunday’s rain-delayed Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Logano punched an early-bird ticket to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Now Logano can take a carefree trip to unpredictable Talladega two weeks hence. The same can’t be said for three of the sports superstars. Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch all had major issues at Charlotte and will have to rebound in the remaining two races of the Contender Round to keep their title hopes alive.
Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford led 227 of the 334 laps and crossed the finish line .703 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick, who posted his 11th runner-up finish of the season to go with three victories.
The win was Logano’s fourth of the season, his first at Charlotte and the 12th of his career. Most important, however, was the free pass into the Eliminator Round.
“Logano’s the only one who’s going to sleep for the next two weeks,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished third in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet.
Logano echoed those same sentiments.
“This makes Talladega way easier,” Logano said. “I know that’s on everyone’s mind when this round starts, and last year we won Kansas when it was the first race of this round and now we were able to get it this time at Charlotte. We’ll get lots of sleep here the next couple of weeks.”
Logano notched his victory a week after Harvick triumphed at Dover to claw his way back into the Chase.
“I think everyone saw how fast he was last week and it probably made a lot of people nervous, but our team kept their heads up and stayed confident,” Logano said. “We know we can beat them. We know we’ve got what we need over here, and our team is as tight-knit as they get.
“I’m proud of them. I couldn’t be more proud of them. We had a lot of money stops today to keep us out front. The pit stops were great and I couldn’t be more proud of what they’re doing right now.”
Denny Hamlin ran fourth, followed by Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Seventh-place finisher Austin Dillon was the only non-Chase driver in the top nine, with Jeff Gordon coming home eighth in his last ride at the 1.5-mile speedway and Brad Keselowski nursing his No. 2 Ford to the finish line in ninth, after feeling a vibration in the left rear of his car.
Kenseth, the polesitter, led 72 laps in the early going before a litany of issues ultimately knocked him out of the race in 42nd place and left him in dire jeopardy of elimination from the Chase.
The coup de grace came on Lap 177 when contact between Kenseth’s Toyota and Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet sent both cars into the outside wall. Kenseth’s day ended on Lap 240, when his car shot into the Turn 3 wall after blowing a right front tire, the result of suspension damage from the earlier incident.
Multiple brushes with the outside wall, the first after contact with Carl Edwards Toyota, relegated Earnhardt to a 28th-place finish, four laps down.
Busch, the final major casualty, was running third under caution when his Toyota collided with Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet after both made feints near the entrance to pit road. Busch bluffed a pit stop and Larson turned down into the No. 18 Toyota when Busch was trying to steer his car back onto the racing surfaces.
Despite subsequently sliding in a patch of oil and further damaging his car against the outside wall, Busch salvaged a 20th-place finish after the collision, but trails eighth-place Keselowski by 10 points. After the Oct. 25 race at Talladega, the Chase field will be cut from 12 drivers to eight. Newman finished 15th and is ninth in the standings, four points ahead of Busch.
The race was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but rain forced its postponement to a sunny Sunday.
“Well, we definitely had to make some bigger swings at the handling of the car than what we were prepared for last night,” said Harvick. “I like racing in the day, and especially here at Charlotte, because it seems like the cars move around more and it’s harder to get a hold of your car.
“But we never were able to get the balance right on our car all weekend and just never really got comfortable in the car—but kept grinding away, and it got better throughout the day today, and that’s a good thing on race day.”