By JEFF WOLFE
It wasn’t Joey Logano’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, but it sure felt like it.
Logano won Sunday at Pocono for his second career Sprint Cup victory, but it was the first time he had gone the scheduled distance and he became the first pole-sitter to win in a Sprint Cup race in 31 tries. The last time a pole sitter won was Kyle Busch last July at Kentucky Speedway.
Logano beat second-place finisher Mark Martin and the third-place Stewart to the line in the first 400-mile race at Pocono Raceway, where races had traditionally been 500 miles. It was also the first race since the 2.5-mile tri-oval was repaved, making a faster track where Logano smashed the qualifying track record by seven mph.
But, it was not clear until late in the race that the driver who started first would finish first. Logano lined up in the lead after the seventh and final caution of the day in the 160-lap race with eight laps to go. He took the low line and Martin the high side for the restart. But Martin got the advantage and led for four laps. Logano and crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who won his first Sprint Cup win, were a little concerned about fuel, but were more concerned about the win.
Logano, who led a race-high 49 laps, made the winning pass after diving below Martin going into turn 1 with three laps to go, and then pulled away from Martin for the win.
“Yeah, the moment is pretty surreal,” said Logano, whose other Sprint Cup win came in a rain-shortened event at New Hampshire in June of 2009. “Not just crossing the line, obviously that’s an amazing moment, and I didn’t stop screaming until I got to about — well, Victory Lane, I guess. You work so hard to do this, and them teaming me up with Jason has been an awesome experience. We’ve been growing together a lot lately and able to make our cars better.”
“To get a victory, it meant so much, and pulling the Home Depot car into Victory Lane at a Sprint Cup race and winning it the right way was just an amazing, amazing feeling that you can’t replicate and you can’t explain what it means.”
Logano’s pass and victory meant it was the 61st time that Martin has finished second in a Sprint Cup race (the seventh at Pocono alone) and also leaves the veteran driver without a victory at Pocono.
“We went after that thing really hard,” said Martin, who is driving a 26-race schedule in the No. 55 for Michael Waltrip Racing. “We had a great race car. I really stuck my neck out on the line to get that lead, almost pulled it off the restart before, and I was willing to risk it all to try to get the lead.
“And once I got out there, Joey was just stronger than we were, just a little bit stronger, and I just — you know, I was pushing as hard as I could push and had a little slip there off of 3 and he was able to get up on me and get by. We certainly would have got back up there and raced for the win after the pass if we’d have had the car. But, he was able to pull away.”
Logano didn’t want to take too long to pass Martin, because he knew Stewart would be a threat if he spent too much executing the pass with Martin.
“When (Martin) got in front of me, I was trying to get right to him, and made a couple mistakes, and he was driving away a little bit and then he made a mistake off of 3, and I was able to have a big run coming to him there,” Logano said. “I went into 1 and tried to outbrake him, and he was protecting the bottom, 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.
“Making sure I cleared him was a very important moment. You start side drafting down those straightaways and the 14 car is going to be there ready to pounce before you know it. To clear him, get through 2 and get a little distance on him was very important.”
Logano admitted it was important for his racing self-esteem to get the win, especially against two of his mentors in Martin and Stewart.
“I was telling myself under caution, we were pretty quiet – well, at least I was – I wasn’t saying anything. I just kept telling myself, I can do this, I can do this,” Logano said. “And I knew I can. You’ve got to have that confidence in there that you can do it. I was focused in and made sure I did all the right things.”
Something a lot of drivers did wrong Sunday was get caught for speeding down pit road. There were 22 such penalties, a Sprint Cup record, with some of those drivers getting caught twice, including Jimmie Johnson, who rallied to finish fourth.
The rest of the top-10 included Denny Hamlin in fifth followed by Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000.
The Sprint Cup Series moves on to Michigan next Sunday for a 1 p.m. start on TNT.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.