Crew chief Todd Gordon says if Joey Logano were a basketball player he’d want the ball in his hands and to take the shot in a close game. The confidence Gordon has in his driver in the clutch showed when Logano won a nail-biter Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Logano took the lead following a restart with 64 laps remaining, and then needed to hold off a determined Kevin Harvick to secure the victory. Harvick hounded Logano relentlessly over the final 30 laps with Harvick running up to the rear of Logano’s car several times. But the defending Sprint Cup champion could never pull alongside, as Logano deftly worked his way through traffic to maintain his advantage.
“It was kind of interesting to watch it in the mirror,” Logano said. “I was watching (Harvick) drive in and I was like, ‘He’s going to get me eventually,’ so I just wanted to make sure I stayed at least three or four car lengths up on him so he didn’t get to me.”
The victory was Logano’s second straight in the annual night race, third of 2015 and second in the past three races, as he won two weeks ago on the Watkins Glen road course. With two races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins, the 25-year-old is heating up just in time for the playoffs.
“We’re hitting it at the right time, that’s for sure,” Logano said. “There was a point in the season that we were racing top-10 a lot, but not necessarily for a win. I feel like we’re right where we need to be, just like we were last year at this point. I can’t wait for the Chase to start.”
To finish second Harvick needed to overcome two penalties incurred on pit road. The first violation occurred when the No. 4 crew went over the wall too quickly on lap 128 of 500, with the second coming when Harvick sped on Lap 362.
Harvick’s second-place finish was his 10th such result of the season, giving him a career-best 17 top-five finishes.
“We had an interesting night; we went to the back twice and passed a bunch of cars,” Harvick said. “I think all in all, it’s just a huge credit to the team. They just keep bringing fast cars to the racetrack, and we’re able to overcome a lot of things and everybody just keeps grinding away at whatever the circumstances are, and we’re able to overcome things, and that’s really what it’s going to be about over the last 10 weeks (during the Chase).”
Rounding out the top five was Denny Hamlin in third, Jimmie Johnson in fourth and Clint Bowyer in fifth.
Bowyer’s run capped what has been an eventful week with Michael Waltrip Racing announcing Wednesday that it would cease operations at the end of the season, making Bowyer a free agent.
Both Bowyer and teammate David Ragan were running in the top-five when Johnson made contact with Ragan, who careened into Bowyer and crashed into the inside wall. Ragan sustained crippling damage, while Bowyer spun out but continued on.
“The last person you want to get into and have trouble with is your teammate,” Bowyer said. I’m sick to death about that. We had two top-five cars and MWR really needed that run.
“With that being said, we desperately needed a solid run right there. I mean, obviously, you’re hungry for a win with this organization given everything it had and I drove my ass off we just come up short.”
Though winless on the season, Bowyer continues to provisionally hold the 16th and final Chase spot. He moved 35 points ahead of the cutline and if no new winner emerges in the next two races, should qualify.
“It’s fun to be a part of a group that can answer the call when you gotta dig down and reach down a little bit more to get in that Chase and be a part of that elite group,” Bowyer said. “These guys are up for the challenge.”
Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman completed the top-10 finishers.
Jeff Gordon’s final Bristol race before retiring at the end of the season did not end on happy note. The four-time series champion was running second with less than a 100 laps remaining when a loose wheel required an unscheduled pit stop under the green flag. He fell multiple laps down and finished 20th.