Joey Logano bolsters bid for Chase with Michigan win

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Joey Logano has put himself into the fight for a Wild Card spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, winning the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway from the pole position.

The victory, Logano’s first of the season, has moved him to 13th in the standings and more importantly, just seven points behind Martin Truex Jr. in 12th for the second Wild Card transfer spot.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Logano said on ESPN in Victory Lane. “We needed this for our Chase hopes. We’re not out of it yet. We’ve got another great racetrack [Bristol Motor Speedway] after this coming up for us.

Logano inherited the lead with three laps to go after Mark Martin ran out of gas in an ultimately futile attempt to stretch his final fuel load. Both Martin and Brad Keselowski were on the same strategy, but after a caution came out on Lap 172 for Kyle Busch’s second spin of the day, Keselowski went to the pits for a splash while Martin stayed out.

Knowing he needed a yellow to have any chance, Martin raced out the final run to the checkered flag until his No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota went bone dry. With him out of the picture, it was left to Logano and Harvick to settle the matter.

“I knew [Martin] was two laps short, but I really wanted to get by him just in case,” Logano said. “…I had the 29 [Harvick] behind me and he was about the same speed as me. But just getting that clean air meant so much.”

Martin still praised his MWR compatriots for trying to make their strategy work.

“We knew we needed another caution to make it, but we had the speed to pull it off,” said Martin. “That felt like the old days. Kudos to [crew chief] Rodney Childers and everybody that works on that [car].

“They went for it, rolled the dice, and it’s not crazy to expect cautions at the end of one of these NASCAR races.”

Finishing behind Logano and Harvick in third was Kurt Busch, who was able to break into the Top 10 of the standings thanks to that result.

“I was all fired up when we were running 14th [in the race] – Truex was ahead us, Keselowski was ahead of us, [Greg] Biffle was ahead of us, [Kasey] Kahne was ahead of us – you can’t run 14th and gain on guys,” said Busch. “And I had a restart where the seas parted when I went to the high side, so I got a lot of positions on that restart. We just need to keep plugging away.”

Paul Menard secured his first Top-5 finish of 2013 with a fourth place finish ahead of Clint Bowyer, who overcame a first-lap spin to come home fifth.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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