AVONDALE, Ariz. – Joey Logano picked up his ninth NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year Saturday at Phoenix Int’l Raceway while Elliott Sadler’s shot at the series championship may have ended after a late-race crash.
Logano dominated Saturday’s Great Clips 200, but a pair of late-race caution flags nearly did him in. Logano had a comfortable lead with nine laps left when Noel Dowler lost a tire in turns three and four to bring out a caution flag.
The field returned to racing with five laps left and Logano suddenly found himself in a battle with Brian Vickers for the lead. Vickers managed to clear Logano to take the lead with three laps left, but one lap later Logano drove his way back around to retake the lead.
As Logano and Vickers were approaching the white flag a crash changed the complexion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. Sadler, who came into the race tied with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the championship lead, made contact with Cole Whitt in turns three and four. Both drivers spun, with Sadler getting the most damage after making more contact with Brendan Gaughan.
After a brief red flag for cleanup, the field returned to racing with a green-white-checkered restart. Logano, not wanting to battle Vickers a second time, quickly pulled away. Vickers fell into a battle with Stenhouse for second, which allowed Logano to win the race by .668-second.
“They didn’t make it easy on me,” Logano said in victory lane. “My car was very loose the first couple of laps or so after a restart. Once it got going it was pretty good then they’d start catching back up.
“It was a fun race for sure and they kept me on my toes until the end,” Logano added.
Vickers, in his first start with the Joe Gibbs Racing team he’ll drive for in 2013, ended up second. Stenhouse, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne completed the top five positions.
As a result of Sadler’s crash, Stenhouse leaves Phoenix with a 20-point edge in the championship standings with one race left on the schedule.
“We worked really hard. Mike (Kelly, crew chief) made some good calls,” Stenhouse said post-race. “We’ve still got some racing to do. We’ve got one race left.”
Sadler, who ended the race in 22nd position after starting from the rear of the field in a backup car because of a crash in qualifying, will need a lot of help next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway if he hopes to win the series championship.
“I did it to myself. I put my team in a hole qualifying like I did,” Sadler said. “We tried to work on this car as much as we could, but it just got a little loose there getting under the 88 (Whitt). I just wanted to say it was my fault. I should have done a better job for these guys.”
Stenhouse needs to finish 16th or better next weekend at Homestead to guarantee himself a second-straight series championship.