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Nationwide: Logano continues his winning ways

17 June 2012

Joey Logano continued to be the in-form man, following up wins in the last Cup and Nationwide Series races (at Pocono and Dover respectively) with another race win, this time at the blisteringly fast newly repaved two-mile Michigan International Speedway.

"I've had a lot of confidence in myself lately, in my abilities, knowing what I can do with the race car," said a grinning Logano in victory lane. "We've been in position to win races, and we've capitalized every time we've been in that position," he said, adding: "There hasn't been an opportunity we've let slip up yet."

The Alliance Truck Parts 250 Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon had an early caution on the first lap, when Danica Patrick and Brad Sweet both went for unrelated slow spins after losing the back ends of their car through turns 3 and 4. Fortunately no one collected them, although Brad Keselowski was rear-ended by Kurt Busch as he braked to avoid Patrick; both the #22 and #54 would require some running repairs under ensuing cautions that cost them some initial time and positions.

At the restart, Logano went low to make it three-wide for the lead with polesitter Austin Dillon and fellow front-row man Cole Whitt: Whitt won the battle and led the next nine laps before getting on a nasty wobble that allowed both Dillon and Logano to blast past him. Logano would soon close up on Dillon and take the lead off him on lap 21, just in time for the previously scheduled competition caution to allow the teams to come in and check tyre wear on the newly resurfaced Michigan track that was giving the teams' Sprint Cup counterparts such problems with blistering.

Sam Hornish Jr. jumped to the front by opting for a two-tyre-only change under the caution, and he was blasted out into a strong lead by a Talladega-style push from Paul Menard, who then went side-by-side for a time with Logano for second that Logano eventually won. Dillon meanwhile had dropped back to ninth and was suffering a vibration from a suspected loose wheel that drove him into the pits for a change of tyres.

A third caution came on lap 49 when Kenny Wallace's engine blew and laid down fluid on the track, which at least helped Dillon get the free pass back onto the lead lap. Two-tyre strategies saw Menard assume the lead ahead of James Buescher, Elliott Sadler, Cole Whitt and Brad Keselowski, while Brian Scott and Sam Hornish Jr. in sixth and seventh were the first of the four-tyre cars. Logano meanwhile had dropped back to ninth.

At the restart, Keselowski got unstable on the low line and had to back off in turn 4, catching out Brad Sweet who inadvertently rear-ended the #22 and then went for his second spin of the day; his luck continued to hold, however, and once again everyone else missed him.

At the next restart on lap 58, Paul Menard had to ward off James Buescher for the lead, but was soon stretching away from the field accompanied by his team mate Elliott Sadler, the two of them pulling out more than three seconds over Kurt Busch and Joey Logano. That lasted through to the next round of pit stops, this time under green flag conditions, but it was not a happy stop for Menard: his car exhaust backfired into the face of his right rear wheel changer, costing him time and dropping him behind Sadler, Logano and Busch on the track.

Logano had just caught and passed Sadler for the lead when the fifth caution came out: Austin Dillon had closed right up on the back of Danica Patrick's car, and the air cushion had been the tipping point sending Patrick into a spin in turn 2 that she was lucky to hold off the inside wall. Patrick needed a change of tyres, and Sam Hornish Jr and an increasingly battered Brad Keselowski were also on pit road under the caution.

That put the race to within 20 laps of the finish, as Logano led Sadler, Busch, Menard and Buescher to the green flag once more on lap 108. Logano got a great start on the outside line and Menard followed him through, but Elliott Sadler had a horrible time of it, backing up the inside line and allowing the duo to pull out a big lead. Busch finally got around Sadler - who fell back to seventh - and then won a battle for third place with Buescher.

The green flag lasted only five laps before the sixth caution of the day was out, and once again it was for old spinning partners Danica Patrick and Brad Sweet: while running side-by-side, Patrick's car was once again unsettled by the aero-buffeting and sent into a spin, which also collected Sweet. Sweet survived with only a glancing blow against the wall, but Patrick's hit was much harder and the car had a lot of bodywork damage for the pit crew to hammer out.

The restart was almost a reply of the last, with Logano powering away on the outside line followed this time by Buescher, while it was Menard's time to have a horror and hold up the cars behind him. Busch tried once again to move down the inside, but it didn't work out as well as it had the previous time and he found himself trapped there behind Menard.

But the green lasted no time at all: Josh Richards got rear-ended and spun around by Jamie Dick, the backwards-facing #39 then compressing the front of the #23 against the outside wall. That did some major damage to fuel lines and a fierce fire broke out under the hood of the #23 and Dick was quickly out of his car; it was more problematic for Richards, whose driver-side door was crumpled right into the front of the #23 where the fire was raging. Fortunately the safety officials were quickly on hand to extinguish the flames and Richards was out unharmed - more perturbed when his car started rolling away down the track after the officials prised apart the two wrecks apart. That scattered the safety vehicles, as the #39 executed a surprisingly tidy turning manoeuvre without anyone at the wheel.

That brought out a nine minute red flag for the tidy up of the spilt fuel. For the final restart of the race, Logano was still in charge this time, staying on the outside with Buescher inheriting the lower front row spot. Logano had Cole Whitt behind him and Buescher was backed by Austin Dillon; Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Michael McDowell, Sam Hornish Jr. and Brian Scott made up the balance of the top ten.

Logano once again got a great restart and leapt away to safety; Buscher had learned from the mistakes of others and covered Logano's getaway and moved into line with Logano as soon as he could to benefit from the slip stream, while behind them Kurt Busch made another assertive restart this time taking the high line to go from seventh to win a three-way battle with Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon for third place.

But when it came to the win, it was a two-horse race: Logano had the lead but Buescher was clamped to his rear bumper with his eyes on divebombing down the inside of the #18 on the final run through turn 1. He tried, and Logano saw it coming - but let him do it anyway, figuring on having the momentum to see off the challenge. He was right, and Buescher simply didn't have the last few inches to complete the pass, falling back and finally trailing Logano to the chequered flag by 0.2s.

"I knew exactly what he was doing the whole time, laying back there and trying to make that run on the last lap. I knew he was going to slide it down into 1, and I felt like, as long as I had position on him, I could pin him down enough to get a big enough lead off the corner," said Logano. "He did exactly what I thought he was going to do, and I was able to work my game plan and come out ahead enough to win the race."

"We took a shot at it at the end," Buescher said. "As long as you're in position, that's all you can ask for."

Given his early tangle with Keselowski after Danica Patrick's spin, third place was a strong result for Kurt Busch: "I felt like we did the best we could with that damage from that first spin by Danica," he agreed. ""We had to work our way back up from all that repair work and worked our way back up a couple times from starting in the back and brought the Monster Energy car home in third today.

"A little too much damage I thought when I got out of the car and looked at it I was like, 'Woo, that was definitely slowing us up on the straightaway a little bit.' The hood wasn't sealed to the nose so it was a great finish all in all with all the teamwork that went into it."

It was a poor day for reigning Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose #6 never seemed to be on agreeable form and persisted in handling very loose despite a raft of set-up changes made by the team well into the race.

"We were just really loose and the complete opposite of practice," he said later. "We were really slow. We tried to make a big change there and afterwards the car drove great it was just slow. We were wide open and still half a second off. I don't know what is wrong with it.

"I am glad we are out of Michigan and going somewhere else," he admitted. "I never thought I would look forward to a road course, but we do now."

After all the problems, Stenhouse finished two laps down in 25th place and as a result drops to third in the Nationwide championship standings 27pts off the leader Elliott Sadler, with Austin Dillon now moving up into the runners-up spot.

Full race results, as well as times from practice and qualifying sessions and the current NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings, are available.


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