It wasn't anywhere close to being a repeat of his crushing run to victory at Bristol two weeks ago at which he led every lap, but Penske's Joey Logano was in battling form as he overcame stiff competition on Saturday afternoon to secure his third NASCAR Xfinity Series win of 2015 with a trip to victory late at Talladega Superspeedway.
"There's never a Talladega win that comes easy or not intense at the end of the race," said a delighted Logano as he celebrated with his team after the race. "You never know you've got it until the end, just like every other superspeedway race that we have.
"Towards the end it was having the right people behind you, making the right moves, making the right blocks and trying to get yourself that clean air in the front, and then really it's just all in the mirror. I kept looking in the mirror trying to figure it out.
"It's cool to get our third win of the season right now," Logano added. "This is a pretty special season so far. I've had some really fast race cars and everyone is doing an awesome job."
Full race results from Talladega Superspeedway.
Logano's final margin of victory over runner-up Brian Scott was just 0.130s, and the Penske driver only retained the lead in the final run to the flag with some skilful blocking on his rivals. The result was his 24th victory in 140 series starts and his second win in six Xfinity outings at Talladega
Earlier in the day in Saturday morning's qualifying session for the Winn Dixie 300, brothers Austin and Ty had made it an all-Dillon front row for Richard Childress Racing with the older sibling Austin claiming his 13th pole in 86 Xfinity races with a lap of 53.041s (180.540mph) which put him almost two tenths ahead of Ty. Their team mate Brian Scott extended the RCR domination of the starting grid to a 1-2-3 sweep, with Erik Jones claiming the remaining place on the second row for Joe Gibbs Racing.
When the green flag came out, the nature of pack drafting at a restrictor plate race saw the lead quickly pass from driver to driver. Darrell Wallace Jr. went to the front only to be involved in a multi-car wreck on the back stretch on lap 2 hen he was chopped by Elliot Sadler, which also caught up Mike Bliss and Brendan Gaughan. After the restart, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez both had brief spells in front before Ty Dillon finally stamped his early authority on the race on lap 10 and proceeded to maintain the advantage for the next 26 laps.
Logano took the lead for the first time on lap 36 during a cycle of green flag pit stops that saw Dillon penalised for speeding, but it wasn't until Chase Elliott brought out a caution shortly afterwards by hitting the backstretch wall after losing his right-front tyre on lap 38 that Logano was able to use the subsequent restart to go to the front which he held until he came in for a green flag pit stop 25 laps later. However, moments after Logano had safely pitted there was a major accident sparked by more cars slowing and dropping down low on the track with the intention of pitting only to catch out the cars behind them.
The result was cars spinning all over the track and across the grass in-field. Several cars including Brendan Gaughan tried to avoid the fracas by taking to pit road, but in Gaughan's case this also ended in disaster as he lost control of the #62 and spun into the pit wall. Although he didn't hit any crew members who were still safely behind the wall, the head-on impact send personnel diving for cover and dislodged stacked tyres, one of which hit two of Aric Almirola's crew who needed to be taken for treatment at the in-field care centre and local hospital.
"You never want to hit that wall," Gaughan explained. "That's the wall where you've got people. So you never, ever want to go near that wall. I'm still frustrated. I felt like I should have saved that race car, but we're on pit road, we're sliding, it's just slick. All the debris is down there. I kept tail-swapping and trying, but I couldn't get it saved.
"We're not playing tiddlywinks," he added. "You can't put the bubble wrap around the whole place and around us. We hit pit wall at a rate of speed – I'm sure it's not a rate anybody wants, but it's not like we were 200mph off the track on pit road. I was down to probably 60mph when we hit pit wall."
With Daniel Suarez, John Wes Townley, Harrison Rhodes, Ryan Sieg, Ty Dillon, Ryan Reed, Chad Boat and Joey Gase also involved to some extent it was no surprise that an eight minute red flag was needed to clear up the mess and treat the injured. Getting the race back underway was further frustrated first by debris, then by Cale Conley spinning out on lap 88 after heavy contact with Kasey Kahne, and then by another multi-car wreck on the front stretch on lap 98 when initial contact between Ty Dillon and Chad Boast went on to engulf Kahne, Darrell Wallace, Blake Koch, Dakoda Armstrong and Mark Thompson which resulted in another lengthy clean-up, although this time without the need to park the cars under a red flag.
The race finally got underway for a final eight-lap sprint to the chequered flag. Logano led at the restart but Aric Almirola then pushed Elliott Sadler into the lead. Brian Scott helped Logano respond and the lead went back and forth before finally resolving in Logano's favour. Scott got shuffled back and sustained some bodywork damage in the jostling that left him smoking to the finish; however when Logano lost Sadler's push assistance he was forced slide up the track to protect his lead by blocking a fierce charge to the front by Buescher, which gave Scott a chance to force his way back into second place in time for the finish line.
"It's such a combination of old-school drafting and cars bumping," Logano said. "It's so intense out there. I was just looking at everything in the mirror all the time.
"Winning superspeedway races are a lot of fun because you just don't know until you get there," he explained. "When you get there it's so large because you just don't know until you're there. Off of four you still don't know you've won the race. Typically off of four you know if you've won the race or not, but here you have no idea until you get there."
Sprint Cup regular Logano isn't eligible for points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship but the Penske #22 leads the owners standings by 62 points from the RCR #3 entry driven by Ty Dillon, who himself continues to lead the drivers championship after finishing in the top ten at Talladega. His has been trimmed slightly by two points with Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher. Defending series champion Chase Elliott drops to third place tied with Darrell Wallace Jr. and is 37 points away from Dillon after going 29 laps down following his early accident, meaning that the JR Motorsports driver finished in 37th place.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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