With his first victory of the season secured, it’s time for Joey Logano to concentrate on bigger things.
Like making it to NASCAR’s postseason, the Chase for the Sprint Cup, for the first time during his six-year career.
Logano, taking advantage of Mark Martin’s empty fuel cell, won Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. It was his initial triumph of the season and first as a driver for Penske Racing.
It moved him up three spots to 13th in the points standings, just 17 out of the top 10. The victory also moved him to third in the wild-card standings, behind Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
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“We talk about it every week, what our approach is on how we’ll get into the Chase,” said Logano, who started on the Michigan pole after a track-record qualifying run Friday. “We’ve got to be consistent and be aggressive. We kind of decided we needed to win a race a couple weeks ago. So we got one.
“But our conversation this week will be how we can stay consistent and keep knocking off top-10 (finishes) like we’ve been doing.”
Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Kurt Busch, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
Jimmie Johnson remained the points leader despite leaving the race on Lap 54 with a blown engine. It was the first DNF (Did Not Finish) of the season for Johnson, who has already clinched a spot in the Chase. He leads Bowyer by 41 points.
Logano’s victory – his first in 44 races – came at the expense of Martin, who was leading until he ran out of gas with three laps remaining. Logano, 23, said that Martin, 54, was his hero growing up.
Martin had taken the lead with 26 laps remaining after a restart. With Logano and Harvick closing fast, it appeared Martin might have enough speed to win.
But he didn’t have enough gas. His Toyota ran dry on the back stretch of Lap 197.
“We were just hoping for one more yellow,” said Martin of how he hoped to finish without running out of gas. “I just stayed ahead of Joey there, but if he would have slowed down, I could have saved enough. I had to go that fast. But there was no way to save fuel and lead.”
Brad Keselowski was leading when Kyle Busch spun on Lap 174, forcing the race’s final restart. Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champ who has yet to win this season, elected to get gas during the caution and fell to the middle of the pack.
Martin lined up on the outside of the front row on the restart, with Harvick next to him. Logano was on the inside of the second row, with Kurt Busch beside him.
Martin won the restart and Logano jumped ahead of Harvick and Busch, neither of whom could recover. That set the stage for the final 22 laps.
“It was up to me on that last restart,” said Logano. “To be aggressive and get by (Harvick) and do what I had to do. When it’s go time, it’s go time.”
Said Harvick: “I had a great run on (Martin). But I was going to beat him to the line by too much and wound up having to drag the brakes. From there it was going to be sketchy if we were going to keep (Logano) back there.”
And although Harvick lurked behind the leaders for those final laps, it came down a duel between a teacher and student.
“(Martin’s) been a huge help in my career,” Logano said. “It’s good to be out there racing against him still. (He has) a wealth of knowledge from doing this for so long, being in this sport for so long. You can gain a lot of experience and learn a lot of things from him. He’s a cool guy to have on your side and to be out there running door-to-door with.”