Joey Logano wins Daytona 500
(New York Times) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The feel-good stories that NASCAR hoped would dominate attention during its season-opening week, from Jeff Gordon’s final Daytona 500 to the $400 million makeover of Daytona International Speedway, had been overshadowed by the ugly suspension of Kurt Busch and a gruesome injury to Kyle Busch on Saturday.
Those developments had cast a pall over the race, the organization’s showcase event.
So on a sunny Sunday afternoon, NASCAR was thrilled to see the focus return to racing. And amid the domination of Hendrick cars early to the three-wide, nail-biting, breathless final laps at 200 miles an hour, NASCAR finally had the kind of story it so desperately needed: Joey Logano.
Logano, the driver who was once dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing, then found a home at Team Penske and nearly captured the Sprint Cup championship last year, reaffirmed his place among the top drivers in his sport by winning his first Daytona 500 and securing his berth in the Cup playoff at the end of the year. He also delivered the second Daytona 500 victory to the team owner Roger Penske, who owns 15 victories in the open-wheel Indianapolis 500 as well.
“I can’t believe it,” said Logano, who grew up racing quarter-midget cars in Connecticut. “This is absolutely amazing.”
Logano, 24, held off a field of NASCAR’s best drivers — from the powerful Hendrick Motorsports cars driven by Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., to challenges from Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick in the latter stages of the race — to win under caution after a multi-car pileup on the backstretch during the final lap. But as Hamlin said after the race, Logano is in that class now, too.
“He’s really become one of the elite drivers in our sport,” Hamlin said.
He had to be on Sunday to hold off the pack that was behind him in the end.
For a time, it seemed this Daytona 500 would be the same old story for NASCAR. The only question through much of the race was which Hendrick driver would win. Gordon led 77 of the first 100 laps. Earnhardt powered to the lead at Lap 114 and led for 32 more before a third teammate, Johnson, emerged in the final 50 laps and led for 39. Only a handful of drivers, including Logano, Harvick, Hamlin and Carl Edwards, were able to flirt with the Hendrick cars at the front.
But Logano took the lead from Hamlin with nine laps to go in regulation and pulled ahead of the pack, seemingly on his way to the checkered flag. A wreck behind the lead group forced NASCAR to wave a caution flag and extend the race an extra three laps to ensure a green-flag finish. On the restart, Logano’s No. 22 Ford received a shove from Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota, allowing Logano to outrace Hamlin for the lead. When the field crashed behind him and the yellow flag came out one final time on Lap 203, Logano had won.
Harvick finished second and Earnhardt third.
“I can’t really put it into words,” said Logano, who collected $1.58 million for the victory in what is annually NASCAR’s most prestigious race. “It’s something that you can’t describe. I keep reliving over and over again what it was like down the back straightaway when I came off of Turn 2 there, looking in the mirror, saw them crashing.
“Man, you have a split-second after the caution came out, you think about it: Did we win? Then straight chaos after that. An amazing feeling.”
Among those collected in that final wreck was Gordon, who finished 33rd in his final Daytona 500, a disappointing end to a race that he could have won. Gordon started the race with his No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole.
“This is an amazing moment,” Gordon said before the race. “Like a storybook in the making, or happening live. This is a moment I will cherish forever.”
He would have cherished holding the Harley J. Earl Trophy for the fourth time in his career even more. And for a stretch, it looked as if no one would challenge Gordon, except perhaps Earnhardt, who started third. Earnhardt spent much of the first half of the race on Gordon’s bumper. At the halfway mark, the top three race cars were all from Hendrick, including Gordon, Kasey Kahne in second and Earnhardt third.
But after leading 87 laps, Gordon fell back into the pack as Earnhardt, seeking his third win in the 500, moved to the front.
Harvick stayed with Earnhardt — and in position for his second Daytona 500 win.
Tony Stewart’s chances of finally winning this race ended with a crash on Lap 41. He tried and failed to re-enter the race and wound up finishing 42nd.
Reagan Smith, who climbed into the No. 41 Chevrolet to replace Kurt Busch, who was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR on Friday after a judge determined he had committed domestic assault last September, finished 16th. Matt Crafton, the Camping World Truck Series two-time champion who was tabbed to start in place of the injured Kyle Busch after Busch sustained a broken right leg and left foot in a wreck during Saturday’s Xfinity race, finished 18th.
Both had mostly clean, uneventful races. After all that both teams had gone through the past few days, that was a victory in itself.
NOTES: The team owner Joe Gibbs met with the media before Sunday’s race but did not say how long he anticipates Kyle Busch will be out. Gibbs indicated Busch might have to have surgery on his left foot as well at some point. … Danica Patrick, in the final year of her contract with her primary sponsor, GoDaddy, and needing to show improvement in her third full season in the Cup, finished 21st.