KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Joey Logano grabbed the first berth into the next round of NASCAR’s championship race with a victory Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
Logano’s win advanced him into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which begins after stops at Charlotte and Talladega. Four drivers will be cut from the 12-driver field after Talladega.
“Getting us to the next round, that’s awesome,” Logano said. “This is so much fun, I’m having a blast this year, and we’ve got a real shot to win this championship. I feel like we’re one of the teams to beat.”
It was Logano’s career-best fifth win of the season and ties with him Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski for most in the Sprint Cup Series.
Kyle Larson — who is not part of the Chase — finished second and was followed by championship-eligible driver Kyle Busch, who finished a career-best third at a track where he has continuously seen his title hopes fall apart.
“I won today,” Busch said, “I just didn’t get champagne and a trophy.”
Kansas is noted for destroying the championship chances of many a driver, and Sunday saw four Chase drivers finish 22nd or worse. That included three of the Hendrick Motorsports cars — and six-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson, who spun during Friday qualifying and started 32nd, was mired in thick traffic when he was hit by Greg Biffle just 85 laps into the race. He was forced to take his Chevrolet to the garage for repairs and finished 40th.
“It just means we’ve got to be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega,” Johnson said. “We’ll see how the other Chasers fare. If I can get taken out today, somebody else can later in this event or at Charlotte. Certainly need W’s, I would assume, going forward.”
He was spot-on about other Chasers having problems. Teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading when a flat tire caused him to hit the wall. He finished 39th after leading 45 laps in what had been shaping up to be his strongest race so far in this Chase.
“Just the whole surface of the tire unwound like a string. It just came off the tire and it popped off the corner,” said Earnhardt. “Man, that was a great race car. We hadn’t been running very good the last several weeks.”
Keselowski was the next to suffer a tire problem that sent him into the wall. He finished 36th.
“Russian Roulette,” Keselowski said, “and it was our turn.”
Kasey Kahne was the third Hendrick car to see his day fall apart when he hit the wall. He was 22nd.
With so many drivers experiencing tire problems, Kevin Harvick grew nervous when his car suddenly struggled to turn. He radioed to his Stewart-Haas Racing team that he had a tire down and pitted under green from third place.
Crew chief Rodney Childers reported to Harvick that all the tires were fine, but the damage was done: Harvick had dropped to 23rd, was out of contention for the victory and had to charge his way back to a 12th-place finish. He had led 61 laps prior to his pit stop.
It puts the pressure on for some of NASCAR’s top drivers, most of whom had feared this second round of the Chase from the very beginning. They must be perfect next week at Charlotte to avoid putting their title hopes on the line at Talladega, a notorious crapshoot of a race.
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