Young NASCAR star Joey Logano displayed the patience of a seasoned driver amid heated competition, racing to victory lane in Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.
Past Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski and last year's race winner Matt Kenseth were in the thick of contention coming down the stretch. The abbreviated laps created plenty of traffic and little margin for error as a result, culminating in an excellent finish.
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
Per NASCAR Stats, Logano has joined elite company with some of the most accomplished drivers by winning his third race of the year:
Joey Logano becomes the 5th different driver to win 3 races this season joining Gordon, Keselowski, Johnson, and Dale Jr. #NASCAR— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) August 24, 2014
Kentucky Speedway recorded what Logano had to say after his triumph:
Logano: I wasn’t sure if we were a winning car this morning. What a year we are having. It’s been so much fun. Such an awesome race. #NASCAR— Kentucky Speedway (@KySpeedway) August 24, 2014
Logano: This is one of the three biggest races of the year. To have this in the record books with your name on it is really cool. #NASCAR— Kentucky Speedway (@KySpeedway) August 24, 2014
Jamie McMurray led the most laps with 148, and NASCAR's official Twitter account documented the changing of the guard that occurred with such a compact front of the pack:
Logano, who started fifth, tried to get around veteran Jeff Gordon during the final 15 laps, as Gordon was the last car on the lead lap at that juncture of the race. That allowed Keselowski to make up ground—just not enough to catch the elusive Logano in the end.
A final-lap attempt by Keselowski to pass was denied, and a blink later, Logano had secured his third checkered flag of the 2014 season.
One of the most renowned venues in NASCAR, Bristol's short track fostered a thrilling, 500-lap race with numerous turns and a lot of plot twists, all with Sprint Cup implications on the line.
As the final 50 laps approached, Kenseth had a major decision to make that would shape the rest of the race's outcome, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Matt Kenseth: "If we pit, I don't think I have a chance." CC Jason Ratcliff: "10-4. I'm all in, brother. Alllll in."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) August 24, 2014
A crash involving Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick saw Hamlin throw safety gear in Harvick's direction following the accident. Hamlin, who led 28 laps on Saturday, addressed the issue on Twitter:
So frustrated man.. Mistakes happen. Just not usually that early. Good job by our team to give me a piece to win with. We will get em in ATL— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) August 24, 2014
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also didn't finish the race after getting spun out, and he expressed his own frustration when his evening was over:
We had a damn good car tonight. Real fast. Bristol was rough on us this year. Brand new car next week @amsupdates. We are ready.— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 24, 2014
There were few delays on this evening and little stoppage, as NASCAR's best were given free rein to create a compelling conclusion to such an important race.
At age 24, Logano has already won six races and is establishing himself as a legitimate force to be reckoned with as the Chase for the Sprint Cup continues on. The talent has always been there for Logano to be one of the best, but he hasn't been able to harness it properly over the years to win on a consistent basis.
Now it appears to all be coming together for Logano, just in time for the critical home stretch of the NASCAR racing season. That's great news for Team Penske, and bad news fro the rest of Logano's peers, who could be witnessing the rise of the next truly great driver.
Next week's action picks up at the Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch is the defending champion, but Jimmie Johnson, who had a somewhat under-the-radar fourth-place finish on Saturday, won the race in 2007.
It will be interesting to see how Logano handles the rarefied air moving forward now that he's doubled his previous career win total in 2014 alone.