Joey Logano won a high speed chess match Saturday night. Logano held off Kevin Harvick over the course of the final 63 laps to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Penske Racing driver and the reigning NASCAR champion dueled through heavy lapped traffic at the high speed high half-mile with Harvick getting to the back bumper, or underneath the Ford of Logano several times only to see Logano move out of range. Harvick had one last shot at Logano on the final lap, but had nothing for him as Logano went on to score his third victory of the season and defend his race win from last year’s night race at Bristol.
“It was kind of interesting to watch it in the mirror,” Logano said. “I was watching him drive in and I was like, ‘He’s going to get me eventually,’ so I just wanted to make sure I stayed at least three or four car lengths up on him so he didn’t get to me.”
The second place for Harvick was also hard fought. He was penalized for speeding on pit road twice and had to make up many spots to get back to the front. He never led a lap but was still pleased with his tenth second place finish of the year since his last win in March.
“That’s half the races that we’ve run so far,” Harvick said. “I’m honored to drive the car. I’m not frustrated at all because I’ve been on the other side of this fence, and you’d give everything in the world to finish second every week because it’s not easy. This is a hard sport, and to go to all these different types of racetracks and see the success that the team has, I couldn’t be prouder of all the guys on my team and to drive the cars because I know that at any moment you can rattle off two or three wins in a row at any type of racetrack, so it’s fun.”
Kyle Busch led the most laps on the night, 192, and looked to be the car to beat early. But he had his own share of issues as he had to pit under green with a loose wheel from the lead and was later penalized for speeding. He still managed to rally back and finish eighth.
“It’s frustrating,” Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We put another car on the track that’s capable of winning and it’s tough to do. We’ve been able to do it I don’t know how many weeks in a row. We had a race-winning car at Watkins Glen and Pocono and just keep coming up short. This one’s on us. We made a mistake at Pocono, we weren’t aggressive enough at Watkins Glen and now just make a mistake on pit road. We had a loose wheel and we battled back from that and then you speed on the last stop – you can’t win if you speed on the last stop. That’s all there is to it.”
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth saw his night end early. Kenseth, who won here in the spring fought from his 13th place starting spot and was inside the top five when the engine in his Toyota expired on lap 111. He finished 42nd. Kyle Larson saw his night end early as well when his Chevy lost a tire and he hit the wall hard on lap 126, he was scored 41st.
The biggest drama of the night came on lap 368 just after a restart. The two cars of Michael Waltrip Racing, which announced it was closing at the end of this season, both went for spins. David Ragan, who had earlier run inside the top five was battling his teammate Clint Bowyer for fourth along with Jimmie Johnson. Ragan was under Johnson and above Bowyer when Ragan got loose got down into Bowyer and spun, ending up on the inside wall. Bowyer slowed and was tapped by Brad Keselowski and spun as well. Ragan was done for the night and finished 40th; Bowyer however suffered little damage and rallied to come home fifth.
Jeff Gordon recovered from a loose wheel early and thanks to pit strategy was in second in the closing laps. Another loose wheel however sent him back to pit road under green and in his final Bristol race Gordon finished 20th, four laps down. There were a total of eight cautions.
The final laps belonged to Logano however. He was able to weave through heavy lapped traffic to score the 11th win of his career by .220 seconds over Harvick. Logano became the first driver to win consecutive Bristol night races since Kyle Busch in 2009-2010 and has now won two of the last three races. Logano said after it was over that he feels like he is hitting his stride.
“We’re hitting it at the right time, that’s for sure,” Logano said. “There was a point in the season that we were racing top-10 a lot, but not necessarily for a win. I feel like we’re right where we need to be, just like we were last year at this point. I can’t wait for the Chase to start.”
Denny Hamlin was third, Johnson fourth and Bowyer was fifth. Keselowski was sixth, Carl Edwards seventh, Kyle Busch eighth ,Dale Earnhardt Jr. ninth and Ryan Newman 10th. The full results can be found here.
The top five in the championship standings remain the same with Harvick still leading. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a week off and will be back in action on Labor Day weekend with the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 6 at 7:00 p.m. ET.