Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford came into Phoenix International Raceway needing a good finish in order to secure himself a spot in NASCAR’s Championship Four. After Sunday’s Can-Am 500, Logano came away with just that, as he emerged from Phoenix victorious, making himself one of four drivers who will compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 20th.
The Can-Am 500 at PIR ran 12 laps past the scheduled distance of 312 laps, as two late collisions played a pivotal role in giving Logano the win.
On lap 311, Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota looked poised for the win, leading the field by nearly three seconds with just two laps to go. At this time, the right rear tire of Michael Mcdowell’s No. 95 car went flat, sending his vehicle into the wall with just two laps to go, bringing out the caution flag and setting up a double-file overtime restart.
During this green-white-checkered restart, Kenseth picked the outside lane, leaving the 23-year-old, Arizona native Alex Bowman in the second position, to his inside.
To this point, the race had been dominated by Bowman, who was filling in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., driving of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet. Bowman led a career-high 194 out of the 324 total laps.
When the green flag dropped, Bowman spun his tires, stalling his car, and causing himself to be bumped by Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota. This contact shoved Bowman into Turn 1 with extra momentum, forcing contact with the No. 20, who attempted to clear Bowman going into the corner.
The contact spun Kenseth’s No. 20 car into the outside retaining wall, eliminating both him and Bowman from contention for the win.
“It was just a racing deal,” Bowman said. “I almost feel like the No. 20 thought he was clear. I wasn’t at the best angle, but I was also against the inside wall when we made contact. I guess he heard something on the radio that he thought he was clear.”
Bowman ended up finishing with a career-high sixth place finish at his home track, but was far from satisfied with the way the race turned out.
“I hate taking someone out of the Chase like that, it ruined our day, too,” Bowman said. “We were so strong all day and we had the fastest car, just the fastest car didn’t win the race this weekend.”
Kenseth, who was less than two miles away from victory on lap 311, was also vying for a spot in NASCAR’s Championship Four prior to being eliminated.
“It’s really a disappointing result, but the effort was there,” Kenseth said. “We had them right where we wanted them, but you also have to finish the deal.”
As speculated by Alex Bowman, Kenseth said that his spotter, Chris Osborne cleared him going into Turn 1.
“I got through the gears OK, and I checked at the start-finish line and it looked like I had a good enough run where I was going to be cleared,” Kenseth said. “Chris (Osborne) told me I was clear, so I just started approaching and setting up for Turn 1 and next thing I know, I was in the wall.”
This catastrophe involving the front two cars opened up the door for Joey Logano, who took over the lead for the race’s final restart and never looked back.
“It’s just incredible,” said Logano. “This was such a fun race. That last restart was crazy.”
Coming into the Can-Am 500, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards had already transferred into the Championship Four by virtue of their wins at Martinsville and Texas, respectively. The remaining two spots were up for grabs between six different drivers, all of who had a shot at the win on Sunday at Phoenix.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of different scenarios playing out,” Logano said of the numerous different drivers running for a spot in the Final Four all lining up next to each other on the final restart. “I knew the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) was back there, the No. 18 (Kyle Busch), myself. Even the restart before that with the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) up there, it’s just crazy.”
“This isn’t just a race. This is for the championship or at least a shot at it next week,” Logano said. “The No. 22 car is going there, and we’ve got a hell of a shot at it and I couldn’t be more proud of this team, executing under pressure.”
Logano joins the No. 18 of Kyle Busch, the No. 19 of Carl Edwards, as well as the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson in the Championship Four.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion will be decided at Homestead Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 20th, when the green flag drops at 12:30 p.m.