Joey Logano arrived at Kansas Speedway as the most relaxed driver in the garage still alive in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
As the race-winner last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Logano was the only driver locked into the next round when the green flag dropped Sunday for the Hollywood Casino 400.
After spinning Matt Kenseth with five laps remaining, Logano remains the only driver able to relax as the Contender Round wraps up next weekend at unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway.
“Our goal coming into this weekend was to win the race and keep everyone not feeling too comfortable with Talladega,” Logano said.
Logano drove to victory lane for the second straight fall at Kansas Speedway, claiming the win after a green-white-checkered finish. It’s the first time a driver has won the first two races in any segment in the new Chase format, which was introduced last season.
Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion, had been dominant most of the day and led a race-high 153 laps, but he settled for 14th place and sits dead last in the Chase standings, 60 points behind Logano, after the spin.
“It’s unfortunate that those things happen … but it doesn't take anything away from our win today,” Logano said.
Kenseth, who was desperate for a win after digging a deep hole with a 42nd-place showing last weekend at Charlotte in the opening race of the Contender Round, took a different view.
“It was really cut and dry, (Logano) picked my rear tires off the ground and wrecked me, so there’s no debate about that one,” Kenseth said.
Kenseth and Logano traded the lead eight times between laps 72 and 213, but the drama reached a crescendo on lap 262.
Logano drove low into the corner entering turn one. Kenseth moved down to block him.
Logano, who said he’d been blocked 15 laps earlier and rubbed the wall trying to get around Kenseth, moved up the track.
Kenseth also moved up and again blocked Logano, who decided to try for the middle lane going through turn two.
When Kenseth moved down to block him again, Logano tapped Kenseth’s back right bumper and sent him sideways, bringing out the seventh and final caution of the day.
“We both went for the same piece of real estate,” said Logano, who denied intentionally spinning Kenseth. “I wanted that middle lane and so did he. We collided there, so good hard racing, you know. We ran each other hard. He ran me hard; I ran him hard back. That’s just the type of driver I am, the type of racer I’m going to be.”
Kenseth, who saved the car from hitting the wall, was a bit more salty about the wreck, while also admitting Logano probably was running better at that point.
“He was a little bit tighter on that short run than I was and I couldn’t get away from him,” Kenseth said. “All day we had him pretty good. I still thought I was going to be able to stay in front of him. I saw those lapped cars coming and tried getting a couple of runs off the top there and I was plenty clear, got up in front of him and he just decided to take us out.”
Logano — who now has 13 career Sprint Cup wins, including two at Kansas Speedway and five this season — wasn’t in an apologetic mood.
“I raced hard, because my team works hard and they expect that out of me,” Logano said. “As a racer — they’re all racers, as well — they expect their driver to go to battle in those situations. That’s my job and, if I lifted in that situation like I did down the backstretch, if I did that twice, I’m not sure my team would be too proud to work for someone like that.”
It’s little comfort for Kenseth, who now sits 35 points behind eighth-place Martin Truex Jr. and must win at Talladega to advance.
Denny Hamlin finished second despite never leading a lap and moved up to second in the Chase standings.
Hamlin is followed by Kurt Busch (sixth place in Sunday’s race), Carl Edwards (eighth), Kevin Harvick (16th), Jeff Gordon (10th), Brad Keselowski (ninth) and Truex (15th).
Truex leads ninth-place Kyle Busch, who finished fifth, by six points for the final transfer spot to the Eliminator Round, but nobody other than Logano can feel safe with Talladega looming.
Ryan Newman, who is eight points behind Truex in the Chase standings, isn’t necessarily in a must-win mode, but he faces an uphill battle.
Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who went down a lap because of a loose wheel on lap 165, are in must-win mode to stay alive for a championship.