Logano Beats Truex, Jr. to Win at Martinsville
Joey Logano punched his ticket into the Championship 4 after a thrilling side-by-side battle with Martin Truex, Jr. to win the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and advance to the final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the third time in five years.
Logano put the bumper to Truex going into the final turn and banged doors coming to the start/finish line with Truex nearly spinning out but holding on to finish third as Denny Hamlin flashed by to take second.
Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
Logano's victory was his second of the season and 20th of his career, as well as his first-ever career Cup Series victory at Martinsville Speedway. And he becomes the first driver to race his way into the final four to race for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway in three weeks.
"That was just a hard great race. NASCAR racing at its finest," said Logano. "It was a lot of bumper banging towards the end and a hard race. You know, we didn't wreck each other. We bumped into each other a lot and that is what this sport was built on.
Logano had led the 39 of the final 40 laps after beating Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch off pit road following a caution flag on lap 458.
Although Keselowski is out of the playoff picture, he refused to give his teammate any quarter in the final laps and worked Logano's bumper for better part of 15 laps before Truex ducked into second place and started looking for a way around Logano.
On lap 490, Truex fought his way inside of Logano and the two battled side by side – clean – until Truex managed to clear Logano with one lap to go.
Coming into turn four on the final lap, Logano got into the back of Truex and pushed him up the racetrack and dived to the inside in a bid for the lead. Truex fought back and banged doors with Logano, getting him sideways as the two came across the stripe.
Hamlin, running in third, powered past Truex to take the runner-up spot by a car length.
Following the race, a bitter Martin Truex, Jr. said "He (Logano) may have won the battle, but he ain't going to win the damn war.", seeming to suggest that payback was in the offing.
"I'm just not going to let him win (the championship). I'm going to win it," said Truex, Jr. "We raced him (Joey Logano) all clean. We passed him clean all day long and just out ran him in the long run. I pretty much had the feeling going to the backstretch that that was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. It sucks, but that's the way it goes. I can promise you I won't forget what he did.
"I was next to him for six laps. I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren't even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. That's short track racing, but what goes around comes around."
Logano's team owner, Roger Penske, certainly saw things differently.
"(Truex) is a racer and should know better than to say that. That's as clean a shot as you can have in a race like this," said Penske. "I didn't hear Kyle Busch or the 4 (Kevin Harvick) have any kind of conversation after that race. Joey ran a great race. As far as I'm concerned, that's just a comment that I don't think we deserve. We'll race him day after day.
"Stirring some controversy that he's trying to spread. From my perspective, Joey drove a great race. The team won on pit road. You can see that, how many times he got out front. Leading the number of laps shows the job that Todd and the team did. That's my position."
While Logano locked up one of the four slots available in the Championship 4, the points race behind him tightened up with Kyle Busch atop the Cup Series standings and Truex and Kevin Harvick tied for second, 21 points behind Busch.
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