In the second race that featured NASCAR’s new lower-downforce package, Joey Logano lowered the boom — again.
There was one major difference between Logano’s victory in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway and his win May 21 in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte. This one counted in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and punched Logano’s ticket into the Chase playoffs.
But it remained abundantly clear that Team Penske already has a handle on the aerodynamic configuration the sanctioning body is considering for 2017.
Logano — the Coors Light Pole Award winner — led 138 of 200 laps at the 2-mile track and dominated a succession of restarts, except for one instance on Lap 117 when race runner-up Chase Elliott grabbed the lead from the driver of the No. 22 Ford.
Reasserting his superiority on a Lap 154 restart, Logano held the top spot the rest of the way to win for the first time this season, for the second time at Michigan and for the 15th time in his career. It was the 50th victory for Team Penske since switching to Ford equipment after the 2012 season and the 100th premier-series victory for Roush Yates Engines.
The top three finishers boasted the youngest average age for a podium in Sprint Cup Series history — 23.0. Logano is 26, Elliott 20 and Larson 23. The previous youngest average age for a top three was 24.7 (three times, dating back to 1951 at Charlotte Speedway).
“Everyone did a great job of understanding what this package was going to do,” Logano said in Victory Lane. “They put together a great race car for me. It was a lot of fun racing with Chase there at the end …
“Perfect execution. We’ve been knocking on the door for a win here all season. We got that All-Star win, but it’s nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the Chase.”
Logano had a comfortable lead over Elliott, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year leader, when Denny Hamlin popped his left-rear tire on the frontstretch and careened into the inside wall near the entrance to Turn 1. NASCAR called the ninth caution of the afternoon, setting up the final restart with seven laps left.
Logano chose the outside lane, and eventual third-place finisher Kyle Larson tried to push Elliott past Logano into the lead, but to no avail. Logano pulled away, maintained an advantage of nearly one second and won the race by .889 seconds over Elliott, who was chagrined despite a career-best finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Elliott’s waterloo actually came at Lap 154, when, as the leader, he missed a shift and allowed Logano to regain the lead.
“You can’t do dumb stuff and win these races,” Elliott said. “Completely my fault. The guys gave me a great car today. This whole NAPA group has been working so hard these past few weeks, and that one was on me.
“Like I said, you can’t do dumb stuff to win these things and I did today.”
Asked to elaborate on what he did wrong, Elliott replied, “Putting it in the correct gear would be a good start.”
Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, ran fourth behind Larson, with Kevin Harvick rallying from a 29th-place starting position to finish fifth. Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray and Kurt Busch completed the top 10.
The seventh-place result for Stewart was his second-best this season. Stewart missed the first eight events of the year after an offseason back injury.
Martin Truex Jr. led 10 laps early but spun to bring out the first yellow flag of the day on Lap 46. Truex’s Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota got loose running in close quarters with the No. 15 Chevrolet of Clint Bowyer. After righting his car, Truex recovered to finish 12th.
Two former Michigan winners — Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. — were sidelined early. Busch finished last in the 40-car field after the engine in his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota expired in a fiery detonation after completing 52 laps.
It marked the fourth straight finish of 30th or worse for the reigning Sprint Cup champion.
“There’s nothing you can do to change it around,” said Busch, a three-time winner this year. “You’re not going to go to the luck store and buy any. We had a lot of good fortune go our way at the beginning part of the season I guess. We still had blown tires that hurt us, but we’re either top four or we’re bottom four. There is no absolute in-between for us.”
Earnhardt was caught up in a crash that also forced AJ Allmendinger out of the race. Rookie Chris Buescher‘s No. 34 Ford slid up into Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet, sending Earnhardt up into Allmendinger’s No. 47 Chevy. Buescher continued after the impact, but both Earnhardt and Allmendinger made substantial contact with the outside wall at Turn 2’s exit.
“He must have just lost the nose of his car,” Earnhardt said of Buescher. “I hate it, but you try to take care of each other out there. We all try to race hard, and I wish he would have taken better care of us. He just lost the car and hit the quarter panel. It happens, though. I’m angry, but I won’t be too upset about it later. It’s frustrating right now because we had a good car and I was happy with the way the car drove.”
Notes: Harvick increased his series lead over Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch to 30 points. Logano, the 10th driver to win a Cup race this season, jumped three spots to fifth. … Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet failed the laser inspection station (LIS) after the race. NASCAR is taking the car to its research-and-development center in Concord, N.C., for further evaluation. If penalties are warranted, they will be announced in the coming week. … The Sprint Cup Series’ next race is scheduled June 26 at Sonoma Raceway (3 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). With NASCAR’s top division taking the week off, the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series will visit Iowa Speedway this weekend for a national series doubleheader.