Joey Logano got his fourth season victory and his first win at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the rain-delayed Bank of America 500 Sunday afternoon.
The first race of the second round in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship eliminations also saw Vallejo native Jeff Gordon finish eighth, good enough to keep him as a likely contender for the championship as well.
“This helps us sleep the next two weeks!” Logano said, grinning. He’s no longer pressured to win the next two races, at Kansas Speedway and a week later at the Talladega, Alabama, Superspeedway. Those complete the Contender Round of the Chase.
Logano dominated, leading 227 of the 334 laps, although runner-up Kevin Harvick, the reigning championship from Bakersfield, tried his best to catch the eventual winner.
Behind them came Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards, also in the Chase; Austin Dillon, who is not; Chase contenders Gordon and Brad Keselowski and another driver out of the Chase, Aric Almirola. Unlike in other sports, those who didn’t qualify for the Championship still get to participate in the final 10 races of the Sprint Cup season.
“Everyone wants to be where the 22 (Logano) is, with Talladega looming,” Gordon said, glancing toward the Victory Lane celebration. He said the rain delay, changing the Charlotte race from a Saturday night race to a daytime race helped him finish well. “We could move well through traffic.”
Among the other California drivers, another Bay Area figure, A.J. Allmendinger of Los Gatos finished 16th; Bakersfield’s Casey Mears was 18th; Elk Grove native Kyle Larson was 21st; Riverside’s David Gilliland was 27th; Grass Valley’s Matt DiBenedetto was 29th; Cole Whitt of Alpine was 38th; and El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson was 39th.
Johnson was running third when on Lap 259, he saw smoke and realized his engine had gone into “protective mode” after its oil pump malfunctioned. “We’re done. It’s unfortunate,” Johnson said from the garage.
Going into Sunday’s race, Logano is in the top spot in Chase standings, followed by Harvick, Truex, Hamlin, Busch, Edwards, Gordon, Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Busch’s brother Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth.
Only Logano knows he’ll continue in the Chase. Based on the results of this and the next two races, the top eight will move on to the Eliminator Round that leads up to the season finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida.
Drivers next meet in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. Broadcast on NBC starts at 11:15 a.m. Pacific time Sunday.