Joey Logano led for 154 of the 200 laps of the 5-hour Energy 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Dover International Speedway's "Monster Mile" concrete oval, but a late pit stop left him having to race his wheels off to get back to the lead in time to claim the chequered flag at the end from polesitter Ryan Truex.
Logano had leapt out to the lead at the start, and after a brief initial caution for Tim Andrews getting a puncture and flying off up into the wall in turns 3 and 4, the ensuing restart enabled Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ty Dillon (making his series début) to take up second and third positions while Kurt Busch eventually won an extended battle over fourth place with Ryan Truex.
With a competition caution scheduled for lap 40 given the rain that had curtailed the previous night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, it was clear that the concrete track was a lot looser than the drivers had been expecting and several - including Dillon and Busch - had brushes with the wall. But the biggest early casualty proved to be Stenhouse, who lost the back end of the #6 out of turn 2. He spun, narrowly brushed the rear of the car on the outside wall, but then did an emphatic job of hitting the inside wall nose-on, putting him out of the race for the next 66 laps for repairs. He had no excuses for what had happened, and accepted that it was a case of driver error, pure and simple.
“I just lost it," he admitted. "I wasn't up on the wheel and just kind of riding around until that competition caution and just got behind on the steering. It was driver error, totally my fault. We will have to go back, take a weekend off and get 'em at Michigan.”
At the restart, Logano still had the lead joined now on the front row by Kurt Busch, with Dillon falling back to fourth behind Truex. Further back, Danica Patrick got cited for speeding on pit lane and fell form 17th to 27th position.
The scheduled competition caution went ahead as planned on lap 40, during which Justin Allgaier leapt up ten spots with a fuel-only stop to lead Logano at the restart and Brian Scott also got a good service in pit lane to join Busch on the second row.
Logano leapt away at the green flag, leaving Allgaier to successfully fend off Busch for second place. Annoyed with being unable to make the move, Busch ended up overdriving it and clouted the wall coming out of turn 2 on lap 51, fortunately not doing much obvious damage to anything other than the bumper and the paintwork. A few laps later, Sam Hornish Jr. had his own moment on lap 60 and made contact with James Buescher as they battled over eighth place, but again fortunately without causing a significant knock-on effect to their race.
As the race progressed on the cramped one-mile circuit, the leaders increasingly started to come up against slower lapped traffic. No real problem for Logano who seemed able to streak past anything and anyone with minimal problems, with Justin Allgaier getting a slight tap from one backmarker as he put a lap on him and Kurt Busch having another scary moment as he passed Danica Patrick.
At the halfway point, it was still Logano firmly in charge ahead of Allgaier, Busch, Truex and now with Austin Dillon having passed Brian Scott for fifth place. It was coming up on a new round of pit stops, and unsurprisingly it was Allgaier who was in first on lap 116, followed soon after by Cole Whitt and Parker Kligerman - after which the rest of hte field cycled through in a steady stream.
Almost the last man to show up in pit road was leader Joey Logano on lap 123, and his stop was a relatively leisurely one as the Joe Gibbs Racing team prioritised making sure his gas tank was completely topped off to see him through to the end of the race without needing a late splash and go. Logano's lead was so extensive at this point that he was easily able to return to the track still in the lead.
However, he did exit in the middle of a pack of cars in various stages of being lapped and all having their own private battles, including Elliott Sadler and Sam Hornish Jr. who were trying to ensure they were immediately behind Logano so that should a caution come out, they would be in the lucky dog position and get the free pass back onto the lead lap.
Sadler had won that battle, but in doing so had managed to make Timmy Hill twitch and lose the backend of his car on the front stretch. The #41 spin and went across the front of Hornish's car which sent it into the inside wall; Hornish also sustained a fair amount of front-end damage in the process and had to head to pit road.
The restart on lap 129 saw Logano still leading Allgaier, Busch, Truex and Austin Dillon, but the green flag didn't last long. Further back down the running order, Sam Hornish found himself behind Danica Patrick and tried to make a move on the inside of the GoDaddy.com #7 but couldn't quite hold the tight line and ended up nudging the back of Patrick's car - sending her up the banked concrete track into Brad Sweet who simply happened to be occupying the high groove. Sweet was sent spinning, Patrick's right side bodywork got torn up - and Hornish got away relatively unscathed, at least until Danica catches up with him post-race. There's been little love lost between the two former IndyCar drivers of late.
"It was just a matter of three cars trying to fit into a really tight spot," insisted Hornish. "From my vantage point, when you get down in the corner, I'm looking to see where her car was. I couldn't see it and tell there was someone outside of her. I feel like she could have given me more room. I think she gave me some, not enough."
Logano still led Truex and Scott - a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2-3 -ahead of Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon at the restart, while Allgaier and Busch took the opportunity of there being only nine cars on the lead lap to come in for fresh tyres in the search for some edge over Logano in the closing stages of the race. But while it might have looked like Logano was in cruise mode, he was finding the #18 increasingly loose in traffic and it was holding him up, He was starting the get anxious, and anxiety leads to mistakes.
In this case, Logano's mistake took the form of Tim Bailey, making his Nationwide Series début here at Dover. Logano wanted to get past the newbie but Bailey was ambling along in the middle groove minding his own business but getting in the way as a result: Logano moved up to the back of the #24 and used the cushion of air ahead of them to give Bailey a wake-up call, but unfortunately a mild wake-up call to an experienced Nationwide and Cup driver is something altogether more hair-raising for a rookie - and Bailey duly spun out of turn 2, bringing out the sixth caution of the day.
Worried about how loose the #18 was getting, Logano joined Austin Dillon in taking to pit road for some set-up changes, meaning that Truex was left in charge of the restart ahead of Scott, Busch, Sadler and Allgaier, with Logano now in seventh place ahead of Dillon but with a field full of lapped traffic between him and the leaders. Did he have enough time left race back to the lead in the remaining 43 laps?
He was certainly determined to try, and put together a determined charge through all the obstacles. By lap 185 with just 15 laps remaining, he's managed to climb back into second place - but he was still 2.5s behind the lead, his JGR team mate Ryan Truex. It as starting to look as though it was just going to be asking too much to win the race - unless a late caution came out and neutralised that lead for a final restart.
In fact, Logano didn't need divine intervention after all. Truex's tyres were shot and the car was squirming every time he tried to put the power down. Logano ate into his lead at double-quick time, and then Truex came up on the back of two lapped cars battling side-by-side oblivious of the leaders closing up on them: Truex had to lift, and Logano shot past him to easily claim the win after all.
"I just caught traffic at the wrong time. For some reason, those guys were racing each other 20 laps down in front of me, and I had nowhere to go, and that was the end of it," said Truex.
"We're coming to the race track with a better package and are able to make small adjustments to tune it in better, and that all transfers to the race," sais race winner Logano of his dominant form all afternoon. "We also did a great job making our cars better: better aero, better motors, all that stuff adds up."
As a result of Stenhouse's early accident and his own seventh place finish, Elliott Sadler now leads the Nationwide Series point standings by 12pts over the reigning champion.
Full race results, qualifying and practice times
available, together with the current NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings