Holly Cain | NASCAR Wire Service
Joey Logano held off Kevin Harvick by a scant .312 seconds in a high-speed duel to the checkered flag to win the Hollywood Casino 400 Playoff race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday and earn the first position in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 that will settle the season title Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.
Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford beat Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford off pit lane and then successfully held off the 2020 regular-season champion for the final 45 thrilling laps – the two former series champions putting on a master class in pursuit and defense.
“You gotta want it, man,” an exuberant Logano said after climbing out of his car. “What an amazing team this Shell Pennzoil team is. Oh my goodness. Pit stops put us in position and got us the lead. The 4 (Harvick) was fast, he was real fast especially on the straightaways and I thought if I could hold him off the first 15 laps I had a chance and actually dirty air was best for us and as I caught lapped traffic I was able to gap ourselves.”
Sunday’s win marked Logano’s 26th career NASCAR Cup Series win and third victory of the year, but his first since competition resumed under the COVID-19 pandemic conditions. Of note, the 30-year-old Connecticut native’s last win this season came at championship venue Phoenix Raceway in March.
Alex Bowman, Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five at Kansas with Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and rookie Christopher Bell completing the top 10.
As with Logano and Harvick, Bowman, Keselowski, Elliott and Truex are playoff drivers. The other two playoff competitors, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch, finished 15th and 38th, respectively. Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had to rally after he brushed the wall late in the race. Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet blew an engine on Lap 198 of the 267-lap race.
With the victory, Logano secured his place in the title race. Harvick is now second in the playoff outlook with a healthy 41-point edge on fifth-place Chase Elliott. Hamlin is third in the standings, 20 points up on Elliott in the first spot outside the Championship 4 cutoff. Keselowski, in the final transfer position, is eight points up on Elliott.
Despite his third-place finish, Bowman is ranked sixth, 27 points behind fourth-place Keselowski. Truex, who made a valiant run up through the field to finish ninth after starting last, is now seventh, 31 points below the cutoff. Kurt Busch is in a must-win situation with a 73-point deficit.
“Just a really fast Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang, all our guys did a great job and we moved all over the race track [in pursuit],” said Harvick, who led a race-high 85 laps. “We weren’t the best behind somebody but I had a lot of options as the team made the car better. Good run for us, wish we could have won, just one short.
“I needed the lapped cars to time out well, but Joey’s a good blocker.”
Elliott, who led 47 laps, started from the pole and won Stage 1, his ninth stage victory of the season. Hamlin won Stage 2, his 10th stage victory of 2020.
Hamlin led 58 laps and looked strong throughout the event but scraped the wall and damaged a tire while racing inside the top five. He went a lap down after making a green-flag pit stop but still managed to rally to that 15th-place finish.
Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet blew an engine 198 laps into the race, putting the 2004 series champ in essentially a must-win situation at Texas and/or Martinsville. Busch, who scored a playoff win at his hometown Las Vegas track four races ago, had run among the top five at various times at Kansas.
“It’s a shame for everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing,” Busch said. “Having an engine failure in the playoffs is like a huge parachute that slows you up. We’ll pack that parachute up, throw it away and go to Texas to win.
“We knew we were going to have win either here or Texas and Martinsville we’ve got a shot at it too. The odds are stacked against us, but hey, we’re in the top eight for a reason and I’ve got a great crew chief in Matt McCall. We’ll bounce back.”
The series’ next race is the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Note: Post-race inspection in the Cup Series garage was completed without major issue. Three teams were each found with one lug-nut not safely secured in a post-race check: the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Harvick and the Nos. 18 and 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas driven by Kyle Busch and Truex respectively. According to the deterrence structure in the NASCAR Rule Book, those infractions will result in $10,000 fines for each team’s crew chief.
Contributing: Staff reports