Joey Logano went toe-to-toe with Kevin Harvick in a nearly 40-lap duel to the finish and earned the right to compete for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Logano, who won his previous two races prior to the COVID-19 shutdown in March, grabbed the lead off pit road with 45 laps remaining at Kansas Speedway.
Harvick, who has won a series-leading nine races this season, moved into second with about 40 laps to go and the two veterans spent the remainder of the race in a game of cat and mouse, with Logano’s blocking maneuvers keeping Harvick at bay.
“Hell yeah – racing for a championship,” Logano yelled over his radio after taking the checkered flag. “Let’s go!”
The victory in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 is Logano’s third of the season and most important so far – he becomes the first driver to advance to the title race in two weeks at Phoenix.
“You gotta want it man. What an amazing team this Shell Pennzoil team is. I am worn out,” Logano said. “I spent more time in the mirror than I did in the windshield there. Pit stops got us positions and got us the lead. (Kevin Harvick) was fast, real fast, especially down the straightaways. I thought if I could hold him off the first 15 laps that I would have a chance.
“Dirty air was the best for us. As we caught lap traffic I was able to gap ourselves as he got more dirty air and I was able to draft somebody because I was a little slow down the straightaway. Man, I am exhausted after that. We are going to Phoenix and racing for a championship again. Heck yeah!”
Asked how much the chance to compete for another Cup title weighed on his mind, Logano said: “Yeah, it is on your mind every lap. You come into this race knowing that if you can win this thing you have an amazing advantage. The same thing happened in 2018 when we raced for the win at Martinsville knowing that we have two races to battle for nothing but the championship.
“I can’t believe it. Especially the way the beginning of the race was going and running back there not scoring stage points. It was a good strategy by Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and good pit stops and now this (team) is going to race for a championship at Phoenix.”
Logano, who now has 26 career wins, won at Phoenix earlier this season.
Alex Bowman ended up third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 were Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, most lead-lap cars pit but Kyle Busch stayed out to inherit the lead. Logano and Aric Almirola were first and second off pit road, respectively, after taking just two new tires.
On the restart on Lap 168, Kyle Busch was followed by Logano, Almirola and Denny Hamlin.
Logano quickly grabbed the lead after the restart as Harvick moved into second.
On Lap 170, Harvick powered around Logano to reclaim the lead as Kyle Busch dropped to third.
Hamlin hit the wall coming off Turn 4 on Lap 178 while battling for the fifth position and was forced to pit under green to address the damage on his No. 11 Toyota.
Once Hamlin returned to the track, he was in 29th and running one lap down.
With 75 laps to go in the race, Harvick built up a more than 4-second lead over Keselowski while Blaney ran third and Kyle Busch fourth.
On Lap 194, Kurt Busch reported his No. 1 Chevrolet was “losing power” and he began falling back through the field.
NASCAR displayed a caution on Lap 198, smoke began pouring out of Kurt Busch’s car and it appeared his engine blew, which brought an abrupt end to what had been a promising race.
All lead-lap cars pit under the caution with Harvick the first off pit road. He led the way on the restart on Lap 206.
On Lap 221, Tyler Reddick got into the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out a caution. All lead-lap cars pit for tires and fuel to make it to the finish of the race with Logano the first off pit road.
On the restart on Lap 226, Logano was followed by Harvick, Bowman and Blaney.
With 25 laps remaining, Logano continued to lead but with Harvick right behind him and Keselowski close behind both of them in third.
Bowman got around Keselowski to take the third position with 15 laps to go as Logano and Harvick continued to battle for the lead.
Hamlin held off a wild charge from Harvick, who was on fresher tires, to take the Stage 2 victory.
Blaney finished third, Bowman fourth and Elliott rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, the lead-lap cars all pit with Hamlin the first off pit road. On the restart on Lap 87, Hamlin was followed by Elliott and Blaney. Reddick had to make a second pit stop to fix a loose wheel and restarted from the rear.
Elliott briefly challenged for the lead after the restart only to see Hamlin pull away and hold the top spot.
With 50 laps remaining in the stage, Blaney was on Hamlin’s rear bumper challenging for the lead while Elliott remained in third.
On Lap 124, teams began dropping to pit road to make a green-flag pit stop to take new tires and enough fuel to make it to the end of the stage. Hamlin and Blaney made their stops on Lap 126.
On Lap 144 while green-flag stops were not quite complete, Matt Kenseth got into Erik Jones, doing damage to both cars.
During the caution, several cars pit including Elliott, who continued to have difficulty hearing his crew over his team radio.
On the restart on Lap 150, Hamlin led the way followed by Blaney and Keselowski.
With five laps to go, Harvick, who pit for new tires under the last caution, had made his way up to second and began challenging Hamlin for the race lead.
Elliott held off a furious last-lap challenge from Keselowski to claim the Stage 1 victory, his ninth of the 2020 season.
Blaney was third, Hamlin fourth and Jones rounded out the top-five.
Elliott, who started on the pole, took control of the race early and remained out front until NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 26 to allow teams to check tire wear.
All lead-lap cars pit with Byron the first off pit road thanks to a two-tire stop. Kurt Busch was penalized for speeding on pit road during his stop and had to restart from the rear of the field.
On the restart on Lap 31, Byron will be followed by Elliott and Logano.
In Turn 3 on the restart, Harvick powered around Byron and Elliott to take the lead.
With 30 laps remaining in the first stage, Harvick maintained about a 1-second lead over Elliott as Blaney had moved up to third.
Elliott got to Harvick’s rear bumper with 20 laps to go and began challenging to retake the lead as Keselowski ran third.
On Lap 64, Elliott finally worked his way around Harvick and reclaimed the lead.
With 10 laps to go, Elliott built about a 1-second lead over Harvick with Keselowski still in third.
Keselowski got around Harvick to take the second spot with five laps remaining in the stage.
Both Truex and James Davison had to start the race from the rear of the field due to multiple pre-race inspection failures
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