Joey Logano wins Pocono 400
Joey Logano stood on top of the No. 20 high-fiving everyone he could reach in Victory Lane. Beverages were sprayed, fists were pumped and throaty shouts of celebration could be heard well down the 21/2-mile track.
It's what winning a Sprint Cup race is all about.
It's what Logano has waited years to truly experience. Not rain or Mark Martin would deny him this feeling.
Logano gave a crafty Martin a well-timed nudge out of the way in the closing laps Sunday at Pocono Raceway to clinch his first victory since 2009 and become the first Sprint Cup driver this season to win from the pole.
The one-time prodigy and the grizzled veteran pushing hard down the stretch was a duel to remember at Pocono.
"I didn't stop screaming until I got to Victory Lane," Logano said. "You work so hard to do this."
This one felt like the first time for Logano after his only other career win in 125 Sprint Cup starts was a rain-shortened victory at New Hampshire. Wins count the same in the record book. But they sure do feel different.
"When you cross the line and you've won the race, to me, it's an amazing feeling," Logano said.
Logano had the top car all weekend, posting the fastest practice time Friday and then taking the pole Saturday.
Logano, once a much-hyped phenom when he broke in with Joe Gibbs Racing, was under pressure to produce victories in the final year of his four-year contract.
Logano's win continues a recent uptick of solid results in the Cup series. He has insisted this season his contract status has not added pressure.
But in Victory Lane, he hoped the victory sent a message to his critics.
"I hope it shuts them all up," he said. "It means a whole lot."
He shoved aside one of his earliest supporters to take the checkered flag. Martin saw Logano race at 11 years old and raved about his potential as future Cup champion. Back in 2005, Martin said Logano "can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR."
Logano signed a developmental with JGR and made his NASCAR national level debut at 18 in the Nationwide Series. He was so full of promise, he was dubbed "Sliced Bread." As in, greatest thing since ...
Not quite. Logano had the one victory and never finished higher than 16th in the standings in three full Cup seasons. He's 15th this year and has no deal with JGR for next season.
"I haven't been informed where I stand for next year yet, so that's all up in the air," Logano said. "Obviously, winning a race means a lot and it helps that out a ton. For sure, right now, my future's not set with anybody."
Logano finished a season-high eighth in the Cup race at Dover last week and now has three top-10s in his last four starts. It could be a sign that things are finally falling into place in his first season with crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
Logano has fared much better on the second-tier Nationwide Series. He has 13 career Nationwide wins, four this season, including last week at Dover International Speedway.
"My hope is to obviously stay with what I've got and keep working with Jason," Logano said. "But you never know."
Team president J.D. Gibbs and owner Joe Gibbs did not attend the news conference. Logano joined JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as 2012 Cup winners.
Pocono shortened the race by 100 miles this season and got a thrilling finish. Logano led a career-high 49 laps to become the youngest winner at Pocono.
The 53-year-old Martin, looking for his first win since 2009, took the lead with eight laps left. The 22-year-old Logano, though, bumped Martin out of the way and zipped past for the winning move with three laps remaining.
"I'd call that a bump-and-run," Martin said. "It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It's not how I would have done it. Certainly, had I had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return."
Tony Stewart was third, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Denny Hamlin fifth.
At a track known for its tedious 500-mile race, 400 miles was the perfect length to produce a fantastic finish on fresh asphalt.
Martin is all too familiar with his runner-up spot at Pocono. He has yet to win in 51 career Cup races at Pocono and has finished second seven times.
"You're not owed this stuff, man," Martin said. "I've earned all those second-place finishes and I'm proud of that. You're not entitled. You've got to go get them."
Clint Bowyer was sixth. Matt Kenseth finished seventh and wrested the points lead away from Greg Biffle. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the dominant car most of the race and finished eighth. Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.
The first repave at Pocono since 1995 produced record speeds in qualifying - 36 cars bettered the previous track record. And they flew on Sunday - just a little too fast on pit road. Drivers were hit with a Cup record 22 speeding violations entering or exiting pit road.
"I was extra careful," Earnhardt said. "I was probably really ridiculously slow coming onto pit road. But I just don't want to get popped."