LAS VEGAS – An unplanned gamble late in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 ended up paying off in a big way for Joey Logano at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Logano misunderstood a call to pit during a late-race caution period in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, instead staying out to inherit the lead for a two-lap dash to the checkered flag. When the caution flag waved moments after Logano took the white flag, the mixup on the radio proved to be the winning moment.
“I’m not really sure if we were supposed to stay out or come in,” said Logano, who also won the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last year. “I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. But boy, we fought hard for this one today.”
Logano was among the leaders most of the day, battling with the likes of Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott for much of the event at the front of the field. The field got truly shuffled shortly after a cycle of pit stops with 47 laps left when Chase Elliott, who’d won the first two stages of the race thanks to long run speed, crashed as the result of a flat tire.
The caution came at the tail end of the pit cycle, which left all but three drivers – Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece and John Hunter Nemechek – on the lead lap. Preece ended up retiring shortly thereafter with engine issues, leaving Stenhouse and Nemechek to lead the field back to the green flag while Blaney got the lucky dog and the rest of the field, including Logano, took the wave around to get back on the lead lap.
The race resumed with 41 laps left and very quickly the battle at the front intensified. Logano pushed Nemechek into the lead briefly before dispatching him to take the lead himself out of turn two. Harvick followed into second, with Blaney settling into third.
The top three stayed that way for more than 20 laps before Blaney began to make his charge, moving past Harvick to take second with 18 laps left. With 13 laps left Blaney had caught Logano and used a run on the bottom through turns three and four to take the lead from his Team Penske teammate.
From there it looked like Blaney had the victory in his pocket, but a caution with six laps left for the spinning Ford Mustang of Ross Chastain set up a mad dash to the checkered flag.
During the caution period multiple drivers opted to pit, with Blaney leading most of the leaders down pit road. Logano, who misunderstood the call from his crew chief Paul Wolfe to pit, instead stayed out to inherit the lead ahead of William Byron, Stenhouse, Matt DiBenedetto, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace.
Brad Keselowski lined up eighth as the first driver who pitted, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones and Blaney.
The race resumed with two laps left in the scheduled distance and Logano used a push from Stenhouse to pull clear into the lead. Behind him DiBenedetto muscled his way to the inside of Byron to take over second while Stenhouse battled on the outside in third.
Logano led the field back to the white flag, but behind him chaos ensued as multiple cars made contact, resulting in Nemechek spinning into the pack to bring out the caution flag, which ended the race and gave Logano the victory.
“Nothing like winning the Pennzoil 400 in front of this amazing crowd with this awesome yellow (Pennzoil) car right here in the front,” Logano said. “This is a huge win. Nice to kick off the season with a w(in).”
Logano said the big push he got from Stenhouse during the final restart was key to him having a shot at winning the race, which he then followed up with a block on Byron entering turn one.
“He pushed me and then he shoved me ahead, which is great. Then the block on the 24 (Byron) was the winning move. I was able to get down in front of him and then be able to separate myself a little from the field. Clean air was going to be key with old tires. If I got swallowed up by a couple of cars I was just going to fall backwards really quick.”
DiBenedetto was scored second at the checkered flag, matching his career-best finish in the NASCAR Cup Series. The result was also his first top-five finish for Wood Brothers Racing in his second start with the team and his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
“It’s tough to be that close, but hey, this is only the second race of the season,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing. It took so many people, like Motorcraft and QuickLane, for me to be driving this iconic car. It’s just so cool.”
Stenhouse crossed the line in third, followed by Austin Dillon and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. Wallace, Keselowski, Harvick, Larson and Ty Dillon completed the top-10, with Blaney crossing the line in 11th after leading late in the race.
For complete results, click below.