Logano wins Tal­ladega to ad­vance in NASCAR’s play­offs

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jenna fryer

TAL­LADEGA, ALA. >> Two fa­vorites were cut from NASCAR’s cham­pi­onship field at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, where Joey Logano earned a crit­i­cal vic­tory for Team Penske and Denny Ham­lin used a tiebreaker to get the final spot in the next round of the play­offs.

Logano was not in a must-win sit­u­a­tion Sun­day but the vic­tory sure didn’t hurt. A blown en­gine ear­lier in the race elim­i­nated Penske team­mate Brad Ke­selowski from the Chase for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship field, and Martin Truex had the same poor fate.

So the race at the end really came down to Ham­lin and Austin Dillon, who were jock­ey­ing for the last trans­fer spot into the round of eight. Ham­lin fin­ished third and Dillon was ninth. They ended the round tied in points, and Ham­lin ad­vanced on a tiebreaker.

“We’re on house money at this point,” said Ham­lin, who likely would have needed to win Sun­day if not for the en­gine fail­ures to Ke­selowski and Truex.

Dillon, on a fran­tic dash over two over­time laps to gain as many spots as pos­si­ble, called the out­come “heart­break­ing.”

“It sure stinks to lose it on a tiebreaker,” Dillon said.

Also elim­i­nated Sun­day was Chase El­liott. Ad­vanc­ing are: Jim­mie John­son, Kevin Har­vick, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Logano and Ham­lin. There are four Toy­otas re­main­ing in the field, all from Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing has Kurt Busch and Har­vick, while Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports has John­son for three Chevro­lets in the field. Logano is the only Ford driver.

“Feels good to win on a clutch mo­ment like that with the pres­sure on,” Logano said. “I think we ran like a champ.”

The race was stark dif­fer­ence from the spring stop in Alabama, when 35 cars were in­volved in at least one ac­ci­dent and two cars went air­borne . And last year, it ap­peared that Kevin Har­vick in­ten­tion­ally caused an ac­ci­dent on an over­time restart to help his cham­pi­onship chances.

But for mile af­ter mile Sun­day, the drivers be­haved.

The only glitches came in a har­ried se­quence early in the race in which three cham­pi­onship con­tenders had un­char­ac­ter­is­tic gaffes within min­utes of each other. First Logano left pit road with a jack wedged un­der his Ford, and he had to re­turn to pit road to have it re­moved. Then Ham­lin was flagged for speed­ing, then Truex lost an en­gine .

Ke­selowski’s en­gine went with 43 laps re­main­ing af­ter he’d bat­tled climb­ing tem­per­a­tures on his car be­cause of de­bris on his front grille.

“It is un­for­tu­nate for Brad,” Logano said. “It happens as a leader pick­ing some of it up. We picked it up just not as much.”

Ke­selowski was dom­i­nant for a huge chunk of the race, even as he bat­tled climb­ing tem­per­a­tures on his Ford. Then, with 43 laps re­main­ing, his en­gine blew and Ke­selowski was sent to the garage.

Kasey Kahne spun with six laps re­main­ing to bring out the cau­tion for a heart­pound­ing final restart.

The cau­tion had ter­ri­ble tim­ing for Ham­lin, and was a gift for Dillon. Ham­lin was trying to hold off Dillon for the last trans­fer po­si­tion and the Kahne spin gave Dillon an­other chance to gain points that would keep him in con­tention and bump Ham­lin from the play­offs.

The restart was with three laps re­main­ing.

The push was in­tense for a lap, then a spin by Alex Bow­man brought out the cau­tion for an over­time fin­ish.

Over the team ra­dio, Dillon was told to con­cen­trate.

“Fo­cus for­ward, man. Fo­cus for­ward on what we’ve gotta do. That’s what mat­ters, OK?” Dillon was told by a team member.

Dillon gained two spots in over­time, but it wasn’t enough to pass Ham­lin in the stand­ings.

TREUX MAKES EARLY EXIT: His en­gine fail­ure ended his ti­tle chances — one round af­ter he’d moved to the top of the list of fa­vorites.

Truex won a pair of races in the open­ing round of the Chase, and was above the elim­i­na­tion line Sun­day and only needed a de­cent day to ad­vance into the third round. He ap­peared to be in good shape af­ter win­ning the pole — over­com­ing a qual­i­fy­ing day dis­trac­tion when his team had trou­ble in in­spec­tion — but the en­gine blow­ing on his Toy­ota sent him to a last-place fin­ish.

“We had a team ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing for the cham­pi­onship, and un­for­tu­nately we’re not go­ing to be able to show that,” he said.

KE­SELOWSKI ELIM­I­NATED: Faced with a must­win sit­u­a­tion at Tal­ladega two years ago, Ke­selowski stepped up and grabbed a mon­u­men­tal vic­tory.

He was cer­tain he could do the same on Sun­day and af­ter lead­ing 90 laps, Ke­selowski was def­i­nitely in play for the win.

When his en­gine failed, his cham­pi­onship chances were done .

“A lot of fun to be lead­ing at Tal­ladega,” he said. “We were do­ing the best we could to have some fun and lead some laps.”

RAINIER EHRHARDT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Joey Logano cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries auto race auto race at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way, Sun­day in Tal­ladega, Ala.

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