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Logano pushes Martin aside for Pocono win

11 June 2012

Joey Logano proved himself the master of the triangles, as he converted pole position at the uniquely shaped Pocono Raceway 2.5-mile "oval" to a win - and a victory over one of the sport's most enduring and experienced competitors at that in the shape of Mark Martin, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances.

Between them, the two men had dominated all the practice and qualifying sessions leading into Sunday's race, although when it came to the green flag Logano was joined on the front row of the grid by Carl Edwards.

Edwards' race did not go to plan, however, when he was involved in contact with Logano's Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin going into the very first turn of the race, shortly before Landon Cassill, AJ Allmendinger and Martin Truex Jr. all got involved in an incident behind them after Cassill got sideways, moved down and collected Truex.

Edwards and Hamlin had to go to pit road for repairs under the ensuing caution and Edwards also got a penalty for not lining up properly at the restart, during which Logano pulled away from Paul Menard and Dale Earnhardt Jr. But the race was back under caution six laps later after when JJ Yeley, Reed Sorenson and Tony Raines all managed to wreck against the wall in turn 3, triggering a new yellow that replaced the competition caution previously scheduled for lap 20 for teams to be able to check tyre wear on the brand new asphalt surface at the raceway.

Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin opted to stay out and assumed the lead of the race ahead of Logano and Earnhardt, and it was Hamlin who quickly passed McMurray on the lowside for the lead and started to pull out a comfortable safety margin over the field which he kept until he (and McMurray and Keselowski) came in for their deferred pit stops a dozen laps later.

That left Earnhardt in the lead ahead of Logano, Jeff Gordon and Marcos Ambrose, and they stayed in place until their own turn for pit stops another dozen or so laps down the line. That saw another flurry of pit road speeding penalties fly, in an afternoon that would end up seeing NASCAR issue a record high 22 penalties during the course of the afternoon, the vast majority being for speeding on pit exit.

"Cars were speeding," Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president for competition said when asked about the sheer volume of penalties imposed. He denied that it was a result of NASCAR's equipment being miscalibrated and said that it had been down to team or driver misjudgement.

"You go through that time to time," said Pemberton. "Maybe going off last year's notes and short-cutting what you do. I don't know. It's up to the race team."

The repaving of Pocono since the last Cup outing here had changed the layout of the timing lines down pit lane that calculates a car's speed based on how quickly the car passes over each point. This layout is available to teams for reference so that they can tell how fast they can get away with running between each line.

"This track's gone under a lot of reconfiguration since last year," said Pemberton. "It's a brand new pit road, all brand new loops, positions have been changed since last year. Sections were smaller than they were last year throughout pit road and, actually, the last section is a little bit bigger.

"We put the loops in the racetrack. It's just simple math ... Every week, there's maps printed back here for crew chiefs to come get," he added. "Some choose to get them, some choose to measure their own lines and some go off last year."

But some of the drivers weren't convinced, including Keselowski who was deemed speeding on two separate occasions on Sunday afternoon.

"It was obvious that the section had some kind of issue," he said. "I was consistent down pit road, so if I was speeding in that sector, I would have been speeding in the others - but it didn't show that, he insisted, adding: "I think there's plenty of evidence to show that there is something wrong with the section timing, with whether they're looking at who got busted or what I just said there."

Jimmie Johnson also got caught twice, and came to believe there was a miscalibration in the final timing line at pit exit that caught him out when he thought he was out of the pit road speed limit area. "I did that the first time and I got nailed. Alright, maybe I just overdid it. The second time, I waited until the tail crossed the yellow line and still got pinned."

With so many cars getting caught out by the pit lane speeding system, the running order got a continuous series of jolts through the afternoon. After that round of pit stops on lap 45, no fewer than ten cars were penalised including former front runners Keselowski and Jeff Gordon. After the cycle of pit stops had completed, the survivors at the front were Hamlin, Earnhardt, McMurray, Logano and Kenseth.

It was time for Hamlin and McMurray's next off-sync pit stops on lap 65 (indeed, Hamlin pushed it too far and ran out of fuel before he could get in) when a caution came out for AL Allmendinger hitting the wall in turn 2. The next restart was thwarted by David Ragan's car blowing a tyre and littering the track with debris and by Kyle Busch's engine blowing up and dropping oil on the track, so by the time the next extended green came out on lap 83 the top five consisted of Greg Biffle and Mark Martin ahead of Earnhardt, Logano and Kenseth.

Biffle decided that Matt Kenseth had the better chance of holding off Dale Earnhardt and accordingly let his team mate take over in front on lap 93. It turned out to be a wise move, as Biffle's Ford engine was on its way out.

"It's unfortunate," he said later. "We've been on the edge with these engines all year and it's just such a fine line with oil temperature, and you come here shifting and it just didn't make it ... It's a good thing we just lost a cylinder and could make it to the finish."

Dale Earnhardt took the lead from Kenseth during the next round of green flag pit stops, and the leaders came in again under the fifth caution on lap 124 when Biffle's engine problems took a turn for the worse. At the restart, Joey Logano, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick led the field to the green flag, which lasted just six laps before Kasey Kahne hit the wall hard coming out of turn 3.

Logano and Martin were still in charge at the next restart on lap 143, and at the next on lap 152 following a brief debris caution triggered by a piece of metal located in turn 2. By now, after a variety of late pit stop Hail Marys had played out, their closest challengers were Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer for the final uninterrupted eight lap dash to the green flag.

All of Mark Martin's formidable racing experience told him that this was the crucial moment, and he floored it - pulling out a comfortable five car-length lead over Logano within two laps. Then he had a moment on the inside of turn 3 next time around that allowed Logano to close back up again, and it was the youngster's turn to make his play for the win. It ended up being what Martin referred to as a "bump-and-run" move by Logano who used his bumper to throw the veteran off his rhythm for a critical edge.

"It's not how I would have done it, but certainly if I'd have had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return. But I couldn't quite keep up with him," he admitted. He added that he didn't think Logano had done anything wrong with his overtaking move: "It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time."

Logano didn't quite agree that it was a genuine intentional bump-and-run move, however.

"Went into 1 and I tried to out-brake him, and he was protecting the bottom," Logano explained. "I was trying to stick my nose in there, and we got really close, and I'm not even sure if we touched each other or not, but I know I got him air-loose at least and able to slide up underneath him and clear him by the time he got off of 1."

"Well, I'd call that a bump-and-run," said Martin, known for his clean racing don the years and not one to look kindly on "grey area" moves.

Whatever it was, it worked out for Logano: once past Martin down the front stretch on lap 156 he sailed off into the lead, finally clinching the chequered flag by almost a second. Martin was equally safe from the attentions of Tony Stewart in third who had his hands full of a late-charging Jimmie Johnson taking fourth place ahead of Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

It's only Logano's second win in Cup competition in five years at the senior level, something of a disappointment for the driver nicknamed "Sliced Bread" (as in, "the greatest thing since") because of his astounding achievement of winning the Nationwide Series race winner aged 18 back in 2008 - ironically it had been Mark Martin who was one of the first Cup drivers to point him out as a future world champion as long ago as 2006. He's got 13 Nationwide wins in 98 series starts, compared to just two now at Cup level in 125 starts.

"Not to take anything away from that - those Nationwide wins are a lot of fun," said Logano."[But] when you're racing against the best race car drivers with the best race teams out there, and to be able to beat them, it's to me the best of the best out here."

Logano is hoping that this weekend's win will put paid to the naysayers who say he came into Cup competition too young, that he's overrated, that he isn't making the grade. He had his veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli quit over the close season, suffered concerns about the ongoing sponsorship of the #20 in his hands, and had to endure rumours last year that Joe Gibbs Racing were courting Carl Edwards to replace him at the wheel when Logano's contract expires at the end of the current season.

"I hope it shuts 'em all up," said Logano succinctly.

In the Cup championship stakes, Biffle's engine problems means that he loses the points lead to his team mate Keneth, with Earnhardt also slipping in front of him for second place.

“It's unfortunate we fell back that far, but the points are so tight we knew that if we had an issue we were gonna drop a lot - if we got in a wreck or had an engine problem or a mechanical issue or flat tyre," Biffle said. "You're vulnerable when you're only one point or 10 points ahead, but that's racing. As long as it doesn't happen in the Chase I'm happy."

Kenseth was happy with being in front of the Cup battle - "It's better than being second" - but it was still small compensation for missing out on the race win itself at Pocono.

Full race results and NASCAR Sprint Cup championship standings available.


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