Joey Logano hit the jackpot at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and now he’ll get to race for a championship.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe took a gamble with 25 laps to go, risking track position to bring the No. 22 Pennzoil Ford down pit road for fresh tires, and Logano let it ride. After a pair of restarts and a brief battle with Chase Briscoe, the 2018 Cup Series Champion was able to reel in the No. 1 Tootsie’s Chevrolet, passing Ross Chastain with three laps to go and holding steady until the checkered flag waved.
“We’re racing for a championship! Let’s go!” Logano shouted after climbing from his car, extending his streak of making the Championship Four in every even-numbered year since 2014.
“Racing Ross was fun. He did a good job air-blocking me, and I was just trying to be patient, but eventually I was like, ‘I’ve got to go here.’“ Logano said of the late race battle for the win.
Asked after the race if he could have done anything differently to hold off the No. 22, Ross Chastain said “No, for our Tootsie’s Chevy that was all we had. There was a clear difference in tires there”. Still, the Trackhouse Racing driver added another solid finish to his breakout season, tallying his 12th top-five of the year. At 18 points above the cut line, he finds himself well-positioned to advance out of the Round of 8.
Despite going a lap down in stage one, Chase Briscoe managed to battle back and drive his No. 14 Code 3 Associates Ford to a fourth place finish, even leading late and challenging for the win during the final set of restarts. Denny Hamlin had a similar turnaround, salvaging a top-five finish despite starting in 31st.
Other playoff drivers were not so fortunate.
Ryan Blaney, 2022’s winless wonder, at times seemed poised to finally break through. The No. 12 Menard’s Ford led 38 laps and won stage two, but Blaney’s afternoon got derailed on lap 229 when he made hard contact with the outside wall. Although the Team Penske crew was able to repair the car and rejoin the race, they were relegated to a 28th place finish.
Christopher Bell had an even worse day.
After getting ridden into the wall, Bubba Wallace appeared to turn down into the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet of Kyle Larson, sending the 2021 Cup Series Champion into the wall, and collecting Christopher Bell in the process. Much will be made, no doubt, of Wallace’s actions both on-track and afterwards, when he walked across the front stretch and shoved Larson several times.
“Hate it for our team. Super fast car. Larson wanted to make a three-wide dive bomb but never cleared me,“ Wallace said after the incident. “Now we’re junk. Just a piss poor move on his execution.”
Larson was willing to take blame for the initial contact but took issue with Wallace’s on-track retaliation, saying “He had reason to be mad, but his race wasn’t over until he retaliated. It is what it is. Just aggression turned into frustration and he retaliated.”
“I know he’s probably still upset but I’m sure with everything going on he’ll know he made a mistake in the retaliation part and I’m sure he’ll think twice about it next time,’’ Larson added.
Bell, who narrowly advanced out of the Round of 12 by virtue of a late race charge at last week’s Bank of America 400, was forced to retire early due to damage sustained in the incident. He finished 34th, worst among all Playoff drivers, and heads to Homestead 23 points below the cut line.
Team Hendrick’s two playoff drivers were largely non-factors during the race, with William Byron and Chase Elliott finishing 13th and 21st, respectively. While he remains 17 points above the cut line, regular season champion Chase Elliott had another underwhelming day, continuing a trend that has plagued the No. 9 team since the Playoffs began.
“When you perform that poorly you get poor results. That’s how it works,’’ a frustrated Elliott said after the race.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend for the penultimate race in the Round of 8.