Joey Logano may not be Adonis, but he had just enough muscle under the hood of his Ford Fusion to hold off rookie Kyle Larson in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Logano dominated, leading a race-high122 laps of the 267-lap event, becoming the first two-time winner in this year’s Chase, having earned his first victory two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“That makes Talladega a whole lot easier,” crew chief Todd Gordon said over the team radio after Logano took the checkered flag.
“Hell yeah, it does,” Logano said in agreement.
It was a big boost for Team Penske after teammate Brad Keselowski suffered a tire failure and wrecked, ultimately finishing 36th.
“What a team and Ford I have here,” said Logano, who now has five wins thus far this season overall. “Getting us into the next round, that’s awesome.
“It means a lot. Team’s Penske where I need to be. Unfortunately, Brad didn’t have the best day, but we had a couple of fast Fords coming into here.
“… I’m having a blast this year and we have a real shot at winning the championship and I feel like we’re one of the teams to beat, so I’m having fun with it.”
With Sunday’s triumph, Logano becomes the first driver to earn a berth in the third round of the Chase, the Eliminator Round, which will ultimately set the four-driver field for the one-race shootout for the championship in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
With his win in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Joey Logano vaults to the top of the Chase standings, holding a six-point edge over Kyle Busch. Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman are tied in third place, each nine points behind Logano.
Denny Hamlin is fifth (-11), followed by Kevin Harvick (-15), Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon (both tied for seventh in the rankings, each 17 points back).
And that’s where it gets really rough, particularly for Hendrick Motorsports, as three of its four drivers are now ranked in the bottom four of the 12-driver field heading into Saturday’s middle race of the Contender Round at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kasey Kahne is ranked ninth, 25 points behind Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 11th (-42) and Jimmie Johnson brings up the rear of the pack, 44 points back – or essentially one full race worth of points.
Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski is also sandwiched in that bottom four at 10th, 39 points back.
Updated Chase standings look after the first race of the Contender Round and fourth of 10 races overall:
1) Joey Logano, Leader
2) Kyle Busch -6
3) Carl Edwards -9
3) Ryan Newman -9
5) Denny Hamlin -11
6) Kevin Harvick -15
7) Matt Kenseth -17
7) Jeff Gordon -17
9) Kasey Kahne -25
10) Brad Keselowski -39
11) Dale Earnhardt Jr. -42
12) Jimmie Johnson -44
For Larson, who is still seeking his first career Sprint Cup win, it was his third runner-up finish this season.
“We were pretty equal, running the same laps on that same run,” Larson said. “It was a good finish. We were so even, I couldn’t do anything.
“… Another second (place), you can’t be too disappointed. The wins are going to come. I just have to be patient. Every time I’ve been in the top 3, getting close like this is going to make the win feel that much better.”
Several Chase drivers got off to poor starts due to a number of issues, primarily tire-related.
Among those were six-time and defending Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
That’s nearly half of the 12-driver Chase field that remains after last week’s elimination of four drivers from the original 16-driver field.
Johnson finished 40th, his worst Chase performance since Homestead in 2005. He was wrecked from behind by Greg Biffle and hit the inside retaining wall hard.
“I’m fine, obviously a big hit in the championship points,” Johnson told ESPN. “That’ll put a premium on next week and the week after. We have to be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega. There’s still a lot of racing left.”
And then there was Keselowski, who looked very strong early in the race until he also suffered a tire issue.
“We blew a tire, not really sure why,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t really running an aggressive setup in the car and blew a tire. … It was Russian Roulette and it was our turn.”
Kyle Busch finished third followed by Martin Truex Jr.’s strongest run of the season.
Carl Edwards was fifth, followed by fellow Chasers Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin in sixth and seventh.
Eighth through 11th were Austin Dillon, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger, who was eliminated from the Chase after last week’s race at Dover.
Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick led 61 laps but fell back to finish 12th.
Matt Kenseth finished 13th, followed by Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Marcos Ambrose.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski