Given the statistics, you might think Joey Logano ran away with Monday’s rain-delayed FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Yes, Logano led 163 of 203 laps at the 2-mile track in the Irish Hills. He had the fastest car in qualifying on Saturday and the fastest car in the 15th Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event of the season.
But after a late caution for Erik Jones’ spin into the infield grass below Turn 2, Logano needed overtime to seal the win. He needed a superb restart on Lap 202 to gain an edge. And he needed a determined drive over the last two laps, aided by spotter T.J. Majors, to hold off charging Kurt Busch by .147 at the finish.
Logano wasn’t about to reveal how he got such a good launch on the decisive restart.
“I can’t tell you everything I learned,” quipped the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, who won for the second time this season, the third time at Michigan — all from the pole — and the 23rd time in his career. “You race this whole race, you keep building that notebook up.
“What a great execution day from our race car, obviously very fast. Our pit crew was amazing. T.J. Majors spotted his butt off up there. The race fans sticking around till Monday — you guys are the best. We love coming up to Michigan. Nothing like bringing a Ford to Victory Lane in their home turf, Roger Penske cars as well. This is a big win for us.”
Thanks to Logano’s victory, Ford Motor Company retained the Michigan Heritage Trophy that goes to the manufacturer of the winning car. Ford drivers have won the last three races at the 2-mile track.
Despite sustaining right-rear damage to his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet during a brush with the outside wall on Lap 42, Busch ran in or near the top five for the vast majority of the race. He was third for the final restart and quickly steered to the inside of Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota to grab the second position.
Busch, however, couldn’t catch Logano on the final lap.
“I had a blast,” Busch said. “Tightest I ever put my belts at the end of a race. We got enough stage points today, we said, ‘Hell with it, we don’t need to get anything but the win.’ We got second today.”
Before the final caution, Busch was running behind Martin Truex Jr., locked in a tight draft. The two cars were gaining on Logano, but the yellow flag interrupted their progress.
“Logano’s car was tough,” Busch said. “I really wanted it to go green at the end with Truex. I was going to push him straight through the 22 (Logano). My best shot at it.
“We’ll get it. It gives us reason to smile and be happy. We ran up front, were strong in our manufacturer’s back yard, but got second today.”
Truex held the third spot, followed by Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch. Brad Keselowski ran sixth ahead of Kevin Harvick, who rallied from early issues with a vibration that cost him a lap but lost too much ground on a four-tire call on his final green-flag pit stop.
Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.
Though Logano led 163 laps, the race wasn’t a cruise for the Team Penske driver. In one hotly contested section of the race, Logano passed Harvick on Lap 148, surrendered the top spot back to Harvick on Lap 149 and regained it on Lap 150.
But a two-tire call from Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, on a Lap 175 pit stop gained more than five seconds on Harvick, who had taken four tires one lap earlier. Even with the late caution, Harvick couldn’t regain the lost track position on the final two-lap shootout.
Logano led 109 of the first 113 laps and prevailed in Stage 1. A solid fuel strategy carried Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a Stage 2 win. But Dillon was knocked from contention by contact, first with William Byron’s No. 24 Chevy, and then the outside retaining wall. He finished 26th.
MORE: Stage recaps
Clint Bowyer’s bid to repeat his Michigan victory from last June ended after just 130 laps after his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford crashed in Turn 2. He placed 35th in the 36-car field.
The race was delayed 27 hours from its initial schedule to a Monday, 5 p.m. ET start time by rain.
The Monster Energy Series’ next race is the Toyota/Save Mart 350, scheduled Sunday, June 23 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM) at Sonoma Raceway.
Contributing: Staff reports