Joey Logano picked up his second win of the year and sealed passage to NASCAR's Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a first-place finish in the Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday.
Logano started slowly, sitting well off the leaders for the first half of the race. Then, beginning on Lap 100, he steadily climbed up the leaderboard. Upon overtaking Kyle Busch for first place on Lap 147, he didn't lose the lead over the remainder of the day.
Talladega Superspeedway shared his post-race celebration:
Brian Scott, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top five:
|Hellmann's 500 Results: Top 10|
|Pos.||Driver||Time Behind (Seconds)||Laps Led|
|5||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||0.422||6|
|Source: Fox Sports|
Alex Bowman spun into the infield on Lap 186 to set up the overtime period. When the green flag dropped to resume the race, Logano, Scott and Kevin Harvick sat in first, second and third.
Logano had a strong restart and consolidated his lead, settling into a comfortable position ahead of Scott. From there, the No. 22 car displayed excellent defensive driving, reacting to Scott and cutting off each of his attempted passes.
NBCSN provided a replay of the overtime laps leading up to Logano's win:
The 26-year-old came a long way in the span of a few hours. It looked like he was destined for a rough Sunday when a jack got stuck under his car and was dragged across the track, via NASCAR on NBC:
Bigger than Logano's win are the Chase consequences from the Hellmann's 500. Four drivers are no longer in the hunt for the title:
|Chase for the Sprint Cup Grid|
|Eliminated||Martin Truex Jr.||2,191||4|
With the stakes high Sunday, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr., who each earned four wins in 2016, picked the worst time to have car trouble. Neither driver finished the race, and both saw their hopes of advancing to the Round of 8 evaporate.
ESPN's Marty Smith thought the remaining field benefited in a big way:
Truex finished in last place after making it through 41 laps. Shortly after his exit, he spoke on NBCSN about his disappointment:
Engine trouble also claimed the No. 2 car after 144 laps. NASCAR on NBC shared a look at the car heading back to the garage:
Like Truex, Keselowski remained circumspect:
Sunday will offer more ammunition for the critics of the Chase format. Keselowski and Truex were two of the strongest drivers throughout the season, and engine problems in one race undid all of that work.
The Chase structure creates plenty of drama late in the year, but the Hellmann's 500 illustrated that luck can be an outsized factor in determining the last driver standing.
Three more races stand between the final eight and the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida, on Nov. 20.
The Round of 8 will kick off next week at the Goody's Fast Relief 500.
Logano knows Sunday's checkered flag won't provide any guarantees. Nearly a year ago to the day, he wrapped up his third straight win in the month of October. The next week, Matt Kenseth wrecked him at Martinsville Speedway, which irreparably damaged Logano's chances of staying in title contention.
For Logano and the rest of the Chase field, the smallest mistake can carry significant consequences over the next three races.
"I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well," Logano said of the end of the race, according to FoxSports.com's Joe Menzer. "Kevin did a good job with that, which ultimately got us all a great finish."
"Feels good to win on a clutch moment like that with the pressure on," he said of the win, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "I think we ran like a champ."
Chase Elliott has exceeded expectations in his rookie season. Despite that, failing to advance to the round of eight in the Chase was a bitter pill to swallow.
"We just tried to be as aggressive as we could, tried to make stuff happen," Elliott said, per USA Today. "Disappointed we came up short. We've had some awesome race cars in the Chase. It's just unfortunate."