Logano avoids trouble, takes Sprint Cup race at MIS

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Joey Logano leads a pack of cars Sunday at MIS.

Brooklyn – Pole sitter Joey Logano avoided trouble with the new rules NASCAR put in for the Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway Sunday and went on to win the Firekeepers Casino 400.

Oh sure, things got interesting early when Logano got loose on the opening lap and drifted back, letting it known his car got “stupid loose” while getting passed by Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin before gaining control of his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford and getting back to the front of the field.

Logano, driving for Roger Penske, dominated, leading 138 laps around the two-mile superspeedway to earn his first victory of the year, making him the 10th different driver to win at least one race this season.

FIREKEEPERS CASINO 400 RESULTS

Logano won by 0.90 seconds over rookie Chase Elliott in his No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet for Rick Hendrick Motorsports. Elliott, 20, was making his first start at MIS, a track where his father Bill Elliott had tremendous success, winning four straight races in the mid-'80s.

Kyle Larson, 23, finished third in the No. 42 Target Chevrolet for Ganassi Racing. It was the youngest average age (23) for a top-three finish in NASCAR history, breaking the old record held in 1950 and '51.

Logano's teammate, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski finished fourth. Points leader Kevin Harvick finished fifth in the No. 4 Outback Chevrolet for Stewart/Haas Racing. Kyle Busch, who has a series-high three wins, suffered a blown engine and lasted just 52 laps in his No. 18 M&M’s RWB Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, finishing last in the 40-car field.

“We won as a team and it was an amazing team effort,” said the 26-year-old Logano who won for the 15th time in his eight-year career. “From when we unloaded with this rules package you don’t know what you’re up against when you barrel down to the Turn 1 for the first time and say, ‘Oh my God, they’re not kidding about that small spoiler on the back of it.’

Jim Harbaugh, Sarah enjoy day at MIS

“Everyone started working on the car, being able to put the thing on the pin to start the race and be able to stay in the top two the whole race goes to show that not only did we have a fast race car, obviously a lot of times the fast race car doesn’t win the race all the time.

"You have to execute throughout, and seeing the strategy that Todd (crew chief Gordon) had, the execution of the pit crew to keep us up front, the way the restarts went and able to maintain the lead and keep that clean air, everyone did the job the way we were supposed to. It feels good to be able to do that. It felt really good to pull our car into Victory Lane.”

NASCAR put in new rules to the aerodynamic package to further reduce downforce and sideforce to allow cars to get better runs for passing opportunities.

With the rules change, the spoiler was shortened an inch from 3.5 inches to 2.5 inches and the splitter reduced from five inches to two leading to 1500 pounds of downforce from 2,700 pounds a year ago and 2,000 earlier this season.

The changes were supposed to put the racing more in the hands of the drivers, which it did, giving them the challenge of their careers in handling loose cars in corners after going down the straightaway at 218 miles-per-hour.

Nearly one-quarter – 46 laps – were run under caution with the multiple wrecks due to the loose conditions. Drivers were running three-wide which proved to be disaster.

“I went down into Turn 1 on the first lap and thought I was King Kong, drove down there and about crashed so that didn’t work out so well," Logano said. "I learned a lot from that one. The cars are out of control, crazy and it makes it a lot of fun.

“But, if you’re in that pack a little bit, you’re going faster down the straightaway, you’re getting a huge draft on cars who are side-by-side in front of you and you have no downforce at all, especially when you’re three-wide, your angles awful going into the corner and you're trying to clear and everyone is racing hard. It’s a recipe for disaster for sure.

“You can make mistakes from inside the car. There’s plenty of times that I went down into the corner, drove in a little bit too hard, chased it up the race track, had to work inside the car and really had to manage your tires and which tires you’re using and all of that so I think all of that together is good, is directionally correct for racing.”

Sure, it was a career-best finish for Elliott, giving him his sixth top-five finish of the year, but he wasn’t pleased.

“I had another fantastic opportunity today and I feel like I definitely messed that one up for my guys,” said Elliott who jumped in the seat of the No. 24 car following the retirement of the legendary Jeff Gordon. “You can’t do dumb stuff and expect to win, that’s just the way life is so that’s certainly the way this sport is and I did dumb stuff today so I can’t expect to win it.”

So, what was the “dumb stuff?”

“Just putting it in the correct gear would be a good start,” Elliott said.

And, Elliott’s views on the new rules?

“It’s still hard to race, running that fast, when you have clean air it’s going to be an advantage and I don’t care if you have a spoiler or no spoiler or 16 inches of spoiler," Elliott said. "It doesn’t matter since we’re running 215 miles per hour, so it’s going to be hard to race.”

It certainly was hard to race for a number of drivers, including rookie Chris Buescher who got loose and took out the series’ most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. near the midway point of the race.

Roush driver Trevor Bayne got loose with 38 laps remaining, making contact with six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, sending Johnson’s No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet into the wall and ending his chance of winning.

And, don’t forget Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota colliding with Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet, leaving Truex spinning out of control in the early going. Truex recovered to finish 12th, actually running fourth three-quarters through the race.

Larson talked of his day, saying: "I didn’t really get to race around a whole lot of people today so I don’t have a very good opinion on if you could pass or whatever. But, you could definitely run up closer to somebody than you could probably in the past so that’s a plus."

It certainly was a plus to see the youth of the sport running up front.

"Yeah, today was cool, probably the youngest top three the Cup Series has ever had," Larson said. "It's pretty special."

davidgoricki@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/davidgoricki