Logano wins fi­nal four spot with Kyle Busch

Run­ner-up’s ac­ci­dent with Bowman in over­time elim­i­nates Kenseth

Baltimore Sun - - NASCAR - By Jenna Fryer

AVON­DALE, ARIZ. — Matt Kenseth’s mis­for­tune gave Joey Logano a chance to race for the cham­pi­onship.

In an im­prob­a­ble turn of events, Kenseth came within two laps of a spot in next week’s ti­tle-de­cid­ing fi­nale but was elim­i­nated from NASCAR’s play­offs. Logano was handed a vic­tory Sun­day that put him in the fi­nal four af­ter a tense dou­ble-over­time race in the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix In­ter­na­tional Race­way.

Kenseth had the win in hand un­til a late cau­tion sent the race to ex­tra laps. Al­though he cleared traf­fic on the restart, his team­mate Kyle Busch made con­tact with Alex Bowman that al­tered Bowman’s rac­ing line

Kenseth’s spot­ter told the driver he was clear, but he cut down on Bowman and the con­tact caused him to crash.

Logano saw the se­quence un­fold­ing, let off his gas early and slid into the lead af­ter the ac­ci­dent. He held off Busch in the sec­ond over­time for the win that qual­i­fied him for the cham­pi­onship next week at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way. Be­fore Kenseth’s ac­ci­dent, Logano was in dan­ger of elim­i­na­tion.

“I’m like ‘Oh, shoot, we’re out,’ and it was go­ing to be so close there at the end to try to get our­selves through, and next thing you know the cau­tion comes out and the whole game changes,” Logano said. “We find our­selves as the leader and we win the race. That’s NASCAR rac­ing at its finest.”

Logano won the race — the sec­ond time in this Chase he used a vic­tory in an elim­i­na­tion race to ad­vance — and will com­pete for his first Sprint Cup ti­tle next Sun­day. He’ll be try­ing to give Roger Penske a sea­son sweep dur­ing its 50th an­niver­sary sea­son. Si­mon Pa­ge­naud won the IndyCar ti­tle in Septem­ber.

“I’ve never felt this good about a win be­fore,” Logano said. “There was so much on the line and ev­ery­one brings their A-game when it comes to win­ning cham­pi­onships and this team did it.

“I feel like I just won the Day­tona 500 again.”

Busch fin­ished sec­ond and earned a Sea­son fi­nale Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way Sun­day, 2:30 p.m. TV: Chs. 11, 4 chance to de­fend last year’s ti­tle. He’ll meet Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mate Carl Ed­wards and Jim­mie John­son, who is seek­ing a record-ty­ing sev­enth cham­pi­onship, in Homestead.

JGR, which was try­ing to get all four of its Toy­otas into the fi­nal, wound up with only two and Busch wasn’t feel­ing cel­e­bra­tory. He be­lieved his con­tact with Bowman trig­gered the ac­ci­dent that wrecked Kenseth’s sea­son.

“It’s re­ally un­for­tu­nate and dev­as­tat­ing to have the race come down like that,” Busch said. “That’s so frus­trat­ing and ag­gra­vat­ing, and I feel hor­ri­ble.”

Elim­i­nated from the play­offs on Sun­day were Kevin Har­vick, an eight-time win­ner at Phoenix who had raced in the past two fi­nales, as well as his Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing team­mate Kurt Busch. Gibbs driv­ers Kenseth and Denny Ham­lin were also knocked out of the field.

“Dis­ap­point­ing would be the way to put it lightly,” Kenseth said. “Fin­ish that race five min­utes be­fore that, looked like we had a chance to go race for a cham­pi­onship. It was a big swing in 10 or 15 min­utes.”

Ham­lin fin­ished sev­enth af­ter a bizarre de­ci­sion not to pit with the rest of the field for track po­si­tion. Al­though it gave him a brief lead, he was no match for driv­ers with fresh tires.

“I knew it was go­ing to be an up­hill climb,” Ham­lin said.

NASCAR picked Sun­day to en­force a rule against pass­ing the pace car when a driver dips onto pit road for a stop. Martin Truex Jr. and Jim­mie John­son were both pe­nal­ized for the in­frac­tion, and the pun­ish­ment was hold­ing the car for a lap on pit road.

John­son and crew chief Chad Knaus were in­cred­u­lous.

“I don’t un­der­stand that in the least lit­tle bit,” John­son said on his ra­dio. “This is ab­so­lutely ridicu­lous, NASCAR. I have no clue what I did wrong.”

John­son said he’ll ask for clar­i­fi­ca­tion this week.

“In 15 years, that has never been a con­cern, and I was al­ways told that the last thing NASCAR wanted to do would be to Joey Logano cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the Can-Am 500 and clinch­ing a place in next week’s Sprint Cup fi­nale. “I’ve never felt this good about a win be­fore,” Logano said. pe­nal­ize the leader,” John­son said. “I am still baf­fled, and I don’t know if I will stop be­ing baf­fled.”

Bowman con­tin­ued his strong pace as the re­place­ment driver for Dale Earn­hardt Jr., giv­ing him a solid case to present to prospec­tive em­ploy­ers.

Bowman had led just nine laps in his first 79 ca­reer Sprint Cup races. Six of those laps were ear­lier this year driv­ing Earn­hardt’s Chevro­let. A pole-win­ning run for Sun­day’s race helped Bowman lead a race-high 194 laps and was at­tempt­ing to win the race be­fore the late ac­ci­dent. He faded to sixth, and felt bad about his in­ci­dent with Kenseth.

“I hate it for Matt. I would have raced the hell out of him for the win, but def­i­nitely don’t want to do that,” Bowman said. “Hate that, and it ru­ined our day, too. So it’s un­for­tu­nate.”


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