Logano runs up front most of the way, wins FireKeepers 400

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Brooklyn, Mich.  — Joey Logano was celebrating at Victory Lane Monday night at Michigan International Speedway after winning the FireKeepers Casino 400 while his car owner Roger Penske was at the White House.

Logano dominated the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race at the two-mile track, leading 163 of the 203 laps, including a two-lap shootout in overtime after a late caution which came out after Michigan native Erik Jones had a tire go down and lost control of his car, spinning into the grass.

Joey Logano celebrates with a burnout after winning the FireKeepers Casino 400 at MIS on Monday.

Logano was fast all weekend, plus Monday in his No. 22 Ford, first winning the pole Saturday and then taking advantage of running in clean air to run up front for the majority of the race.

Logano, the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series champion, looked to have possibly jumped the final restart and then topped the field the rest of the way, winning by two car lengths over Kurt Busch (No. 1 Chevrolet) with Martin Truex Jr. finishing third in the No. 19 Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Penske was at the White House being honored by President Trump for his Indianapolis 500 win last month when his driver Simon Pagenaud came out on top.

Edsel Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford, invited the Ford drivers to dinner in Dearborn Thursday night and talked about the importance of a good showing at MIS. Logano delivered during qualifying, then again on race day.

Logano knows how his boss, Roger Penske, loves a win at MIS too.

“This feels so good, winning at Michigan means so much to Team Penske and Ford and being able to pull into this Victory Lane and see everybody means so much,” said Logano, who earned his third win at MIS from the pole, having won the August race in 2013 and the June race in 2016. “You don’t get those days all the time, the best car, the best team. We executed perfectly all the way through, and ultimately we were able to bring this Shell Pennzoil Ford to Victory Lane.”

It was Logano’s second win of the season in the new Ford Mustang. He won at Las Vegas in early March, then had three runner-up finishes before the win at MIS. His Team Penske teammate, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, who has three wins this season, finished sixth and is now 0-for-20 during his NASCAR Cup career at his home track.

Kurt Busch was happy with his second-place finish for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“I had a blast, that was the tightest I ever put my belts at the end of the race,” Busch said. “We got second today. Logano’s car was tough. Logano ran a flawless race. I really wanted it to stay green at the end with Truex, I was going to push Truex into the 22, felt that was my best shot at it. What a day today for my Camaro. We’ll get it (win). It gives us a reason to smile and be happy.”

Busch and Truex felt Logano jumped the gun on the restart, but NASCAR officials disagreed, as did Logano.

“He was just really fast,” Truex said of Logano. “I don’t know if we could have done anything with him. We were going to need one heck of a push from behind, a shove down the straightaway. I could get a little bit of a run, but never enough to get next to him and surely not enough to get next to him and clear him getting to the corner. His car was really good.”

Joey Logano gets a high five from a pit member before Monday's race.

And of that final restart?

“My mindset there was at least we got a shot at it here, rack ‘em up, have a green-white-checkered and see,” Truex said. “I don’t know. My second gear was off a little bit all day on the restarts, so I was getting jumped, but then the 22 (Logano) just went like a whole car length before his restart zone. I don’t know how you get away with that. I thought we were supposed to go in the box.”

Said Logano: “I was able to see right in front of me, it was green when I got there, it felt good.”

Logano’s biggest threat for most of the race was Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick and it looked like it would be a shootout in the final 15 laps between the two Ford Mustang drivers, but Harvick opted to pit and get fuel and four tires with 26 laps remaining while Logano pitted for fuel and two tires one lap later.

“It was two all the way,” said Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief. “I just didn’t feel like track position you give up. We had really good balance. We had taken two earlier in the day and I didn’t feel like we had given up any speed. I’m really proud of the guys because they executed well.”

Drivers all weekend wanted to know what the new rules package — under which the cars have less horsepower and more drag and more downforce where corner speeds are way up and straightaway speeds down, putting the draft in play more for the drivers — would do at the two-mile track known as NASCAR’s fastest.

“We had a fast car and kept it up front,” Logano said. “This race track, more than anywhere else this year, it was more wide open than any other track we’ve gone to outside of super speedways (Daytona, Talladega). It acted more like a super speedway, the speed in your car seemed to be pretty important, that compromise of how much handling you need to downforce in the car to drag. It’s a tough conversation to have, it’s tough to figure out. Like you asked me earlier if we were 20th do I get back up there? I don’t know. I’m glad we didn’t have to find out.”

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch (four), Truex Jr. (three) and Denny Hamlin (two) combined to win nine of the series’ 14 races in Toyota Camrys coming into the race while their teammate Jones finished third at Pocono in the previous race and was running up front all day Monday until suffering from tires going down on multiple occasions late in the race, finishing 31st.

Jones was third after Stage 2 — just past the halfway mark — but then had his share of troubles the rest of the way, including contact with Clint Bowyer — the defending race winner -— which resulted in Bowyer hitting the wall and exiting the race, then being force to pit when a tire went down on two occasions, including the final time with five laps to go, spinning into the grass to force a caution.