Joey Logano surged to a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season, picking his way through a fraught battle for the lead in the closing laps of the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
The nine laps that remained after the final caution left Logano victorious but several drivers angry at the end of a race which had come to be characterised by flames.
Logano was a regular in the lead battles for the second half of the race – one of many drivers to come to the fore as the race progressed from the evening daylight into the night, under lights at the three-quarter mile track.
The action got off to a very early start. Having been handed pole position after a rained out qualifying left practice speeds to decide the starting order, Kyle Larson’s time at the front of the lasted scarcely into the first corner. He and Clint Bowyer converged on the set part of tarmac, the #42 sent spinning to the outside with the rest of the field avoiding him without serious damage.
It was the start of a brief, but eventful race for Bowyer, who was one of several drivers to have the tread on his right front tyre start to unwind, the damage it did – combined with the discarded rubber in the wheel well – sparking a dramatic looking fire.
The chain of events that led to Bowyer’s exit was not an isolated accident. Cole Whitt in the #26 and Reed Sorensen in Tommy Baldwin Racing’s #36 had similar problems as tyres – not for the first time this season – became a limiting factor to the amount of green flag racing.
With teams wary of the danger of puncturing a tyre and the damage it could so several team opted to pit their drivers under green flag conditions, unwilling to risk a longer run on a set of tyres. Both Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson were top ten runners who were put laps down due to early pitstops, Johnson later suffering a puncture that left him to only finish in 32nd place.
The final run under the green flag would pitched Logano against Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski – who had been the race’s dominant forces, sharing the lead for nearly 300 of the race’s 400 laps, However, leading the pack to the green flag was Matt Kenseth the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, like Gordon, searching for a first win of the season.
He protected the lead on the restart, fending off Gordon in the #24 from the high line, but had his work doubled as Keselowski powered around the outside from fifth place then set to work on passing Gordon for second place.
Pinched behind a defensive Kenseth Gordon was unable to stop Keselsowski as he took second, then began to edge up alongside Kenseth trying to take the lead. His initial attempt failed, but left Kenseth with the unenviable task of trying to block both high and low lanes through the corners, slowing the trio up and allowing Logano to mount a challenge of his own.
Keselowski slipped clear of Gordon into second, but slid wildly sideways across the Hendrick Motorsports drivers’ nose almost wiping out his Penske teammate Logano as he moved for fourth to third, to second and into the lead as the squabbling group drove down into turn one.
As he escaped into clear air Keselowski bumped Kenseth wide, the pair and Gordon wheel banging three wide through turn two. Hostilities continued in turn three an angered Keselwoski laying his front bumper to Kenseth a second time – this time with more force behind it, delaying them both and letter Kyle Busch, who had taken four fresh tyres under the final caution after J.J. Yeley’s engine let go.
Having taken the final restart in 16th Busch sliced through the pack, but found his progress halted in third with Gordon and Logano too far up the road to catch in the few laps that remained.
Kenseth finished fifth ahead of A.J. Allmendinger, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr who completed the top ten.
After the checkered flag as Logano voluntarily burnt his rear tyres into the ground the heated nature of the night continued, Keselowski and Kenseth exchanged angry words while Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears went further in swapping blows in discussion of an earlier incident when Mears bundled Ambrose out of the preferred line while they battled over a top 20 position.