BRISTOL, Tenn. — Joey Logano surged past Matt Kenseth with 44 laps to go Saturday night and won for the first time in his career at Bristol Motor Speedway, foiling Kenseth’s gambling attempt to secure a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Logano became the fifth driver this season to win three times, joining the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and teammate Brad Keselowski, who finished second.
“It’s awesome,” Logano said. “I’ve never won more than one race in a season and now I’ve won three.”
Kenseth elected to stay on the track when most of the field pitted after a caution flag with 67 laps to go, picking track position and fresh air over new tires. It seemed like a strategy that could work, especially if he could stay in the high racing groove that gave drivers decidedly more speed off the corners.
But the Penske Racing teammates quickly proved it faulty.
“I just knew that clean air was going to be worth more than new tires,” Kenseth said of his decision after finishing third. He said he also felt his car wasn’t as strong as he liked on fresh tires. “They cleared everybody way too fast.”
He still remains in great position to make the playoffs, standing fifth in the points race and first among non-winners.
Jimmie Johnson, slowed early by two pit road speeding penalties, rallied to finish fourth, his best result since mid-June at Michigan, and Kurt Busch was fifth.
Gordon remained the points leader despite a 16th-place run. He’s 27 clear of Earnhardt and 42 ahead of Keselowski.
With 100 laps to go, it looked possible the series might get a 13th winner of the year.
Jamie McMurray, who led a race-best 148 laps, was leading, followed by Kenseth, and Ryan Newman was ninth. As the final laps clicked off, though, McMurray faded to eighth and Newman, once as high as seventh, dropped to 13th.
Kasey Kahne, another driver desperate for a victory or a surge in the point standings, led the race for 40 laps, almost to the halfway point. He then pitted under green with a loose wheel and went two laps down. He wound up 35th.
It was another rough night for Aric Almirola, who has had six of those in a row since his first career victory at Daytona made him one of the unlikeliest drivers to secure a spot in the upcoming Chase.
Almirola, who started 42nd after crashing in qualifying, completed just 37 laps before crashing.
“What an amazing race car these guys brought me – two of them – and to go out like that is certainly disappointing. But that’s racing at Bristol,” he said. “You get caught up in other people’s wrecks.”
Earlier, Denny Hamlin got spun out and wrecked while racing as the leader.
Hamlin later fired his HANS device at Kevin Harvick’s car as it passed under caution.
Hamlin appeared to adhere to NASCAR’s new rule of staying in your damaged car until safety crews arrive, and photos showed he was clearly on the apron when he banked the seat restraint off Harvick’s car.
The accident happened as Hamlin was taking the high line through a turn and Harvick was sliding up from below to get into line. Instead he clipped the left rear of Hamlin’s car, sending it spinning and into the wall. Earnhardt also got collected and suffered significant damage, eventually returning to the race about 150 laps off the leaders.
“I just wish I had some kind of car left so I could show him the favor back,” Hamlin said of Harvick.
NASCAR modified its rule about drivers exiting their cars after Kevin Ward Jr. was killed during a sprint car race in New York after being struck by a car driven by Tony Stewart. The new rule bars drivers from approaching the track or moving cars after an incident.
“I’m just frustrated because we had a good run going,” Hamlin said.
“I thought for sure after the first couple runs that we were going to win the race.”
Harvick, meantime, radioed Hamlin’s team apologizing and accepting blame for the incident.
It was unclear whether Hamlin would face a penalty for throwing equipment onto the track.
It was the second year in a row they have tangled at Bristol. Last August, the two were among several caught up in an accident, and they had a confrontation following the race, but came to a peaceful understanding.
INDYCAR: Just two races stand between Will Power and his first series championship. After a big victory in last week’s race, he starts on the pole Sunday at Sonoma, California, on a track he has utterly dominated for the past four years.
FORMULA ONE: Nico Rosberg will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position after holding off a strong challenge from his Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton in qualifying at Spa, Belgium.