Joey Logano passed Jeff Gordon on the last lap to become the seventh different winner in as many NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races this season as he captured the rain-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Monday.
Logano and his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski were clearly the class of the field, as they dominated the action at the 1.5-mile track, leading 193 of 340 laps. But a late-race green-white-checkered set up a nail-biting finish, with Logano having to pass the four-time champion for the victory. Kyle Busch finished third, followed by Brian Vickers and rookie Kyle Larson.
The victory was Logano’s fourth in 190 career starts and his second since joining Roger Penske’s outfit prior to the start of the 2013 season. Logano took the lead on Lap 227 and from there on was out front for all but a handful of laps , winning for the first time since Michigan last August. Texas is clearly a track Logano likes. He finished fifth in this race a year ago and third here last November.
What appeared to be an easy victory, though, turned out to be high drama thanks to Kurt Busch’s exploding rear tire, which brought out the day’s final caution. "Had a good enough restart, we had a good enough run on the 24 (Gordon) to pass him at the end, but man, awesome," said Logano of his race-winning move.
Logano said crew chief Todd Gordon made the right calls to adjust his car as the long race went on and the weather changed from cold and gray to warm and sunny, and that’s when the No. 22 Penske Ford came alive.
"I felt like we had a car that could win this thing today," said Logano. "And in the beginning of the race, we didn’t. And then Todd and the guys made good adjustments, good stops all day."
Runner-up Gordon gambled on a two-tire pit stop on the final caution, which gave him the lead briefly, but he couldn’t hold off the onrushing Logano, who had four fresh Goodyears. "We got a pretty good restart," said Gordon, who took over the points lead for the first time since May 25, 2009. "Joey was right on me and I was pretty loose through (Turns) 1 and 2, and I wish I would have gone a little bit higher down in 3 and 4, but he got that run off of 4."
And that was all she wrote.
Third-place finisher Busch said the two Penske Fords were in a class of their own. "Man, the Penske guys were just super fast," Busch said. "They came out of nowhere."
The race, delayed a full day by rain, got off to a bizarre start. The first 10 laps were run under green and yellow flags simultaneously and during that period second-qualifier Keselowski got too close to one of the jet dryers and it popped the back of his hood up, necessitating three pit stops to tape the hood down.
Just three laps after the race went fully green, series points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. veered left into the infield grass on the frontstretch, and his splitter caught the soft, wet turf, which tore up the front of his Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet and sent him across the track and hard into the outside wall.
His teammate, Jimmie Johnson also suffered serious damage to the nose and windshield of his car in the incident. Johnson was right behind Earnhardt when the crash happened and collected a lot of the mud and dirt Earnhardt’s car churned up.
The race restarted on Lap 25, and four laps later Kevin Harvick, who was in second place and challenging leader Tony Stewart, suddenly slowed, smoke coming from his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet as his engine failed.
Stewart led all but two of the first 76 laps before Keselowski put his Ford into the lead.
Denny Hamlin benefitted from a fast green-flag pit stop to take over second place near the 100-lap mark and on Lap 122, he blew past Keselowski on the backstretch to assume the point.
But on Lap 142, Hamlin was too fast exiting pit road and had to serve a pit-road speeding penalty, handing the lead to teammate Kyle Busch.
Eleven laps later, Gordon went underneath Busch to move out front.
After a caution for Kurt Busch grazing the wall, Keselowski used the high line to pass Gordon and take the lead again on Lap 185.
Following another caution for another Kurt Busch spin, the race restarted on Lap 227, Logano using the outside lane to take his first lead of the day, relegating Keselowski to second ahead of Gordon.
Logano pulled out a lead of almost six seconds at one point, but with two laps to go, Kurt Busch blew a right-rear tire to bring out a caution, which sent the field down pit road.
Gordon and Vickers took two tires each under caution, while the Penske Fords took four tires, with Logano coming out third. But Keselowski got caught speeding on pit road, costing him a shot at victory.
Gordon led the restart, but Logano went underneath him on the last lap to win.