KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Joey Logano could have backed off. He could have let Matt Kenseth drive away. He could have prevented all kinds of controversy by deciding that second place was good enough.
Instead, he decided to go for first.
Logano got under Kenseth entering Turn 1 with five laps remaining in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, sending him spinning across the track. Logano ultimately drove away for his second straight win in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, while Kenseth was left in a win-or-else situation heading into next weekend’s race at Talladega.
“That’s good, hard racing,” said Logano, who was already assured of a spot in the next round of the Chase thanks to his win last week at Charlotte. “We were racing each other really hard. I felt like I got fenced twice. He raced me hard so I raced him back.”
Kenseth had every reason to race hard. He had a difficult run at Charlotte, leaving him in a dire situation in trying to make it to the final eight in the “eliminator” round of the playoffs.
“I’m really disappointed,” Kenseth said. “I was running the lane he wanted to run in, but my goodness, isn’t this racing? Strategically, I think it wasn’t the smartest move on his part. He’ll probably sleep good tonight. I hope he enjoys that one. It’s not what I would have done.”
Kenseth wound up leading a race-high 153 laps, but his wild ride with a handful to go dropped him to 14th in the race and, more importantly, last among the 12 drivers in the title race.
“I don’t like to see that any more than anybody else,” said Roger Penske, who owns Logano’s team. “It’s one of those racing accidents. It’s real tough when it’s in this kind of a situation, but there was no question Kenseth was doing everything he could to keep Joey from going by.”
So, Logano did everything he could to get by.
“I saw two guys racing their butts off,” said his crew chief, Todd Gordon. “Joey had a couple runs at Matt and Matt blocked both of them and unfortunately got us in the wall.”
Already eliminated from contention, Jimmie Johnson had a strong car all day and wound up behind Denny Hamlin in third. Kasey Kahne was fourth, followed by Chase drivers Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch. Ryan Blaney was seventh as the youngster continues to improve, followed by more title contenders in Carl Edwards, pole sitter Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman.
Hamlin’s second-place finish allowed him to climb to second in the standings, giving him the best chance of everybody outside of Logano of moving onto the next round.
“It was a very good day,” he said. “I wanted to be seventh or better entering this weekend, and obviously second was a good run for us. Some of the guys in front of us had some troubles.”
Plenty of guys behind him, too.
When the field pitted under green with 53 laps remaining, Martin Truex Jr. had a tire roll away and served a pass-through penalty, while Kevin Harvick drove off with his fuel can and had to serve a stop-and-go penalty. Both lost a lap and precious points in the title race.
Truex got his lap back and finished 15th. Harvick came across in 16th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a wheel go loose during a long run and pitted under green. That dropped him off the lead lap, too, and Earnhardt wound up two laps down and in 21st place.
“There’s no place I would rather go next week,” said Earnhardt, one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in the series, and the winner at Talladega in the spring.
The wild finish at Kansas led to a massive shake-up in the Chase standings, with Logano the only driver who can head to Talladega without feeling any pressure.
Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Edwards have a bit of a cushion, but everyone else is hanging in the balance. Truex currently holds down the eighth and final spot in the next round, but he’s just six points ahead of Kyle Busch. Ryan Newman is only eight points back.
Then there’s Kenseth, now 35 points out of the final spot. If he wasn’t facing a must-win Sunday, his late-race spin from Logano left him facing exactly that next weekend.
“I thought we did an excellent job this weekend of controlling the things we could control,” Kenseth said. “We did everything as a team to win the race, just couldn’t get away enough to keep him from pulling that move on me there at the end.”
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