RICHMOND, Va. — Joey Logano smiled as if he’d stolen something and got away with it, and that wasn’t far from the truth.
Logano passed distracted and dominant Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski on one restart and then pulled away on another with about 20 laps to go to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday.
“We were just fast enough to break through and kind of steal a win,” Logano said. “We had a decent car. We were in the lead when the caution came out there and we looked like we were in pretty good shape, and then, obviously, to have the good pit stops and all that, I don’t know if you’d call that stealing. We didn’t get lucky. We were able to just do what we know how to do.”
Logano, who qualified fifth but had to start 37th after making a transmission change, grabbed the lead when Keselowski had to make a defensive move to keep Kyle Busch from passing him on the inside. His 18th career victory came in his 300th career start.
“I was driving my guts out out there,” Logano said in Victory Lane. “That’s all I had. We won with a car that may not have been a winning car, so that’s something to be very proud of as a team. That means the execution was there and we were able to put ourselves in position to race there hard at the end. Brad was the fastest car. He was so fast.”
Keselowski got stuck behind some slower cars on the final restart, letting Logano pull away by nearly 2 seconds.
“I think what we needed was about 10 more laps,” Keselowski said. He led six times for 110 laps
On the final restart, Logano had to get around Kyle Larson and five others who stayed on the track when everyone else pitted. He made quick work of that challenge and pulled away while Keselowski and Denny Hamlin got caught in traffic dueling for the second position.
“That’s part of how this racing deal works, and the fastest car doesn’t always win,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski, who had the dominant car for the second half of the race, held on for second, followed by Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his first race since announcing he will retire at the end of the season, finished 30th.
“We just didn’t have the speed that the other cars had,” a frustrated Hamlin said. “We finished right where we should have.”
Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all took a chance when the rest of the field started making green-flag stop with about 80 laps to go. The three stayed out hoping for a caution flag that would allow them to get new tires and remain up front.
Johnson eventually pitted, and then he brought about the caution when he side-swiped Earnhardt into the wall in the backstretch, making the gamble pay off for Newman, who was likely to be passed shortly thereafter by the hard-charging Keselowski.
“I just have to try to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me or if it wasn’t told to me,” Johnson said. “I just feel terrible, obviously. Man, I’m surprised our cars even kept rolling after that because I just body slammed him into the wall and I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know, but that’s the last thing you want to have happen with a teammate.”
Newman couldn’t cash in, however, failing to be a factor at the end and finishing 7th.
Pole-sitter Matt Kenseth led the first 163 laps, winning Stage 1, and raced in the top 10 until a flat tire with 35 laps to go.
NO SMILE FROM KYLE
Kyle Busch was fuming after NASCAR flagged him for a commitment line violation with 22 laps to go, dropping him to the back of the field. It was his second penalty of the day following an earlier one for speeding entering the pits. That also put him to the back of the field, and he’d finally made it back into contention when the second one ruined his day. He finished 16th.
Richmond moved the race from its typical Saturday night start time to Sunday afternoon, with mixed results.
“The day race changes this track dramatically, and I think it makes it really racy,” Keselowski said. “’’I think it’s great. I think some of the best racing here is during the day, but it’s hot and I know it’s hard for some of the fans to be up in the stands and go through all that.”
With temperatures in the low 90s, the crowd was sparse.
The series goes from one extreme to the other as it follows back-to-back short track events with a restrictor plate race at 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.