KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Joey Logano was not going to be intimidated.
With Kevin Harvick filling the mirror of Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, Logano had to make his car wider than the Grand Canyon for the final 40 laps of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Logano made no mistakes in those final 40 laps, hanging on to score his first victory since March to punch his ticket to the NASCAR Cup Series championship finale on Nov. 8 at Arizona’s Phoenix Raceway.
“I was driving out of my mirror almost the whole time those last 40 laps,” Logano said. “It was a long 40 laps.”
The pivotal moment of the race took place on pit road. Harvick was the race leader when the caution flag waved on lap 220 when Tyler Reddick bounced off the wall in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Harvick led the field down pit road, but Logano’s crew completed a flawless pit stop to get the 2018 series champion off pit road first in front of Harvick. That gave Logano control of the restart, which came with 42 laps left.
Utilizing a push from his Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney on the outside, Logano was able retain the lead going into turn three on the restart lap. From there it became a cat and mouse game between Logano and Harvick, with Logano constantly bobbing and weaving in an effort to keep Harvick at bay.
At several points during the final run Harvick was able to carry a lot of momentum through the corners and down the frontstretch, but he was never able to get alongside Logano entering turn one.
“You try to hold him off as long as you can,” Logano said. “You think if you can hold on 15 laps or so maybe it’ll get a little easier. It didn’t. He hung there for a long time and he was just catching me so fast on the straightaways.”
Harvick couldn’t completely focus on Logano as he was briefly challenged by Brad Keselowski with 31 laps to go, but Harvick shook off that challenge and continued his pursuit of Logano.
With eight laps left Harvick tried to make a move to Logano’s inside entering turn one, but Logano was wise to Harvick’s game and blocked Harvick’s momentum. Harvick was forced to back out of the gas, allowing Logano to gap him by several car lengths.
“There were moments during those last 40 laps where I got six or seven car lengths on Kevin and I was like, ‘OK, this could be alright. Maybe I can start pulling away,'” Logano said. “The next thing I know he drafts right back up to me at an event quicker pace because he was further back.”
Harvick tried again to get close enough to make a move on Logano in the final few laps, but his efforts proved futile as Logano held on to win the race and guarantee himself a chance to race for a championship on Nov. 8.
“We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points,” Logano said. “We’re in it, we’ve just got to stay healthy and get there and go for the big trophy.”
Harvick, who earned his 20th top-five finish of the season, said Logano put his car everywhere he needed to in order block his advances.
“Joey did a good job of putting his car right in front of ours,” Harvick said. “With this (rules) package every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away. We just had a little bit of trouble getting the nose to turn when he would take our lane. Guys did a great job, brought a fast car, just came up one short.”
Alex Bowman moved to third late in the race, with Keselowski ending up fourth ahead of Kyle Busch in fifth. Chase Elliott, Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell completed the top-10.
Two of the eight championship contenders ran into trouble during Sunday’s race. Kurt Busch failed to finish after the engine went sour in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and Denny Hamlin was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop in the final stage after bouncing off the wall.
Hamlin was able to recover to finish 15th, with Kurt Busch scored 38th at the checkered flag.
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