DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Joey Logano had a shot to win the NASCAR championship last year. A flawed late pit stop cost him the chance, and he went into the offseason determined to get back into contention again.
A win in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Sunday gave Logano the head start he wanted. His victory earned him an automatic berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, and put him at the front of the field after a week dominated by the biggest names in NASCAR.
He was motivated by a sign in the Team Penske gymnasium that reads, “Effort equals results.” That one phrase inspired Logano to put in countless hours watching video of past superspeedway races with his crew chief and his spotter.
“We did everything we possibly could to prepare ourselves for this race,” Logano said. “It’s so cool to see that phrase come to life: Effort equals results.”
More than two years after nearly washing out of one of NASCAR’s top rides, Logano won the biggest race of his career by outlasting the field over a white-knuckle final 50 miles of three-wide racing.
The victory, which came under caution as a late wreck froze the field and allowed Logano to coast across the finish line, was another nod to the job Roger Penske has done with the driver he hired for the start of the 2013 season. Nicknamed “Sliced Bread” when he broke into the Sprint Cup Series at 18 because so many predicted him to be the next big thing, Logano found himself searching for a new job after four underwhelming seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Penske snatched him up, jump-started his career and got his second Daytona 500 victory via Logano. One of the most respected team owners in motorsports, “The Captain” also has a record 15 Indianapolis 500 wins.
Logano reflected after the win on the end of his run with Gibbs and the uncertainty he had about his future at just 22 years old.
“Some of the emotions you go through, you start to think, ‘Man, am I going to have a job next year?’ That’s kind of hard as a race car driver,” Logano said. “I poured all my eggs in one basket. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
“Who would ever guess three years down the road we’d be sitting here saying we’re Daytona 500 champions? That’s crazy. Life is a roller-coaster.”
Logano became the second-youngest Daytona 500 winner behind Trevor Bayne, who was 20 when he pulled off an upset in 2011.
The win ended a week that began with all the attention on Jeff Gordon in his final Daytona 500, the suspension of Kurt Busch and the injury to Kyle Busch in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.
Here’s a look at some of the other things that happened in the Daytona 500:
FINAL RIDE: Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon wrecked on the last lap of his final Daytona 500. Gordon started on the pole for the “Great American Race” and led 77 of the first 100 laps. But Austin Dillon spun him on the last lap, and he sputtered across the finish line in 33rd. “I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500,” Gordon said, “but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”
REPEAT DENIED: Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost his chance to become the first repeat Daytona 500 winner since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Earnhardt stalked the leaders late until a strategic error on a restart with 19 laps left dumped him from contention. Earnhardt rallied for a third-place finish in his first race with new crew chief Greg Ives. “We had a really fast car, maybe the best car here,” Earnhardt said.
UP IN SMOKE: Tony Stewart’s Daytona drought continues. Stewart was involved in a five-car accident early in the 500, ruining his chances of winning the race. Stewart is winless in 17 tries in NASCAR’S premier event. “Well, it’s just part of it,” Stewart said. “It’s not what we had planned.” Stewart was hoping to end the losing streak after two tumultuous years, but he ended up with a 42nd-place finish.
THE REPLACEMENTS: Regan Smith and Matt Crafton were in the spotlight and out of contention. It was about what should have been expected from two guys who got little or no practice time leading into the race. Smith, filling in for suspended Kurt Busch of Stewart-Haas Racing, finished 16th. Crafton, a last-minute sub for injured Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, was 18th. Neither was a factor. “It’s a pretty gnarly learning curve,” said Crafton, a two-time Truck Series champion making his 500 debut.
FORD FIESTA: Ford swept every points race at Daytona, culminating with Logano’s victory. It was the first time the automaker has accomplished the feat. Tyler Reddick won the Truck Series opener. Ryan Reed followed with a victory in the Xfinity Series opener. Throw in Chip Ganassi Racing’s win in the Rolex 24 at Daytona last month, which came in a Ford Riley Prototype, and it was a Ford fiesta at the famed track. “(We) deserve a high-five or something,” Logano said.
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