Rookie Logano captures first Sprint Cup win

Sunday, June 28, 2009 5:53 PM
Last updated 7:15 PM
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LOUDON, N.H. – For most of Sunday’s LENOX 301 Joey Logano was in the way. But despite spinning and getting a lap down twice, he found a way to turn his mistakes into one of the most unlikely – certainly one of the luckiest – wins in NASCAR history.

His accident with 117 laps remaining at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway came back to help him become the youngest Sprint Cup Series winner in the sport’s history at 19 years, one month and four days.

In what crew chief Greg Zipadelli called the “craziest” finish he’s ever seen, Logano was out front on a different pit cycle when rain washed out the final 28 laps. The rookie was able to pit later than anyone else because he pitted after his spin.

If not for the spin, Logano would have had to pit earlier and wouldn’t have been in the top 20 when the rains came. And if he wasn’t given a free pass to the lead lap twice as the top-running car a lap down during a caution, he wouldn’t have been in position, either.

“We seemed lost out there trying to figure out what to do,” Logano said. “When we had that spin, I thought we were done. (Zipadelli) decided to go for it; I was lucky enough to be in the seat.

“We got lucky, obviously.”

Logano was such a surprise leader, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch was stunned to know their battle 100 yards back wasn’t for the lead. They had no idea that Logano was on the lead lap, much less out front trying to stretch his fuel mileage.

“When I heard the 20 (Logano) was the leader, my heart sunk,” Gordon said after finishing second.

“When they told me the 20 was leading, it took the wind out of our sails,” said third-place Busch.

The rain hit at the most-opportune time. Logano could have raced another five laps, but after seeing the weather radar, Zipadelli had no plans to bring him in.

“We were going to stay out until we ran out,” the crew chief said. “This was a crazy day. I’ve never won one like this. We put ourselves in position by being behind, and we took good advantage of that.”

Logano ran six laps of caution in the rain, often turning his engine off and coasting down the straightaways to save gas. Gordon tried to press him during the caution to use more gas, but the first-year driver who replaced Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing didn’t bite.

“I pushed him as hard as I could during caution to keep his engine going,” Gordon said. “He was shutting the engine off and not keeping up with the pace car.”

Zipadelli told his young driver to stick with the plan, and “I did what I was told,” Logano said.

Gordon was the first to reach Logano after the race was red-flagged. He congratulated Logano although the race hadn’t been called. Minutes later, NASCAR made it official.

“You win them anyway that you can,” Gordon said. “I’ve won because we made a great call and stayed out and it rained. Kurt’s won them. When they had to come down pit road (after the spin), as much as that put them behind, it also gave him that opportunity. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s a lot easier to make that call in that position.”

David Reutimann, who won the rain-shortened race at Charlotte, N.C., with a fuel strategy, stayed out again and finished fourth. He was followed by Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.

Jimmie Johnson, Gordon and Kurt Busch led 140 of the first 150 laps as they tried to beat a threat of rain. Once it got past halfway, strategies all seemed to be based around pit stops.

Gordon won the race off pit road during a final round of green-flag pit stops among the leaders. He thought he was racing toward a victory when his crew told him Logano hadn’t stopped yet. Two laps later it started raining.

Ryan Newman ran out of gas while leading when it started raining. If he had a few extra drops, he would have been the improbable winner.

“We had a good strategy, but for some reason we didn’t get the mileage,” Newman said. “Could-of, would-of, should-of been leading at the end of the race. When it’s not your day, it’s not your day.”

And when it is, especially with the help of an accident and two free passes back to the lead lap, it can lead to a stunning victory.


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