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LOUDON, N.H. — When he recorded the first Sprint Cup victory of his career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in June 2009, becoming the youngest winner in track history at 19 years, 1 month, and 4 days, Joey Logano was feted in a makeshift indoor ceremony in the garage area after he was declared the winner of a rain-shortened race.
Somehow it seemed like a sawed-off, muted celebration.
This time, Logano was not about to let anything rain on his parade.
Except, that is, a spray of confetti and a soaking shower of beer suds.
Logano, 24, of Middletown, Conn., was deserving of that red-carpet treatment Sunday when he visited Victory Lane at NHMS for the second time in his career. In a race marred by 15 cautions for 63 laps, Logano survived a white-knuckled, green-white-checkered finish over rookie runner-up Kyle Larson and third-place finisher Kevin Harvick to win the Sylvania 300, the second of three events in the 16-driver Challenger Round of NASCAR’s revamped Chase playoff format.
“To me, this is almost like Daytona,’’ said Logano, whose fourth victory of the season eclipsed the three career victories he posted entering the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign. “It’s such a special place for me. I watched my first Cup race here when I was five, [it is] where I started my first one and won my first one and, after the week I had in Connecticut doing some really cool fundraisers, to top it off with a victory was really neat.’’
Logano pulled his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford to a stop near the granite stripe at the start/finish line of the 1.058-mile oval after leading three times for 73 laps, including the last 30. He shrouded the grandstands along the frontstretch in smoke, and filled the air with the smell of burned rubber when he did a celebratory burnout of his Goodyear tires.
Logano shut down his engine, climbed out of his car and collected the checkered flag to an exuberant roar from the crowd before making his way to Victory Lane.
“I didn’t know where Victory Lane was here, actually,’’ Logano admitted.
Once he found his way there, Logano was presented with a large trophy, a winner’s purse of $290,581, and a monster 21-pound lobster. But it wasn’t his biggest prize.
It was the automatic berth Logano earned to the 12-driver Contender Round at Kansas, Charlotte, and Talladega. The Chase field will be pared to eight for the Eliminator Round at Martinsville, Texas, and Phoenix, with the final four advancing to the Championship Round, a winner-take-all season finale Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Logano became the second Penske driver in as many races to qualify for the next round after top-seeded Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski punched his ticket with a victory in the Chase opener last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
“Personally, I consider this my worst race track,’’ said Logano, who recorded an average finish of 19.333 in 12 previous starts at NHMS, where he had led only 19 laps before Sunday and had as many DNFs (did not finish) as top 5 results with two.
“That’s terrible to say because it’s my home race track, but I’ve always struggled when I come here,’’ Logano said. “To be able to win at your worst race track, that makes you feel like you can win anywhere. It’s just special to be able to do that and the confidence is high with the 22 team right now, and all of Team Penske.’’
Keselowski, winner of July’s Camping World RV Sales 301, looked poised to sweep NHMS when he won the pole position in record fashion Friday with a fast lap of 140.598 miles per hour. He led the first 37 laps, but surrendered the lead when he pitted for four tires and fuel during a competition caution. He dropped back to 21st after 43 laps, spending the next 75 laps clawing his way back into the top 10, climbing to sixth with 186 laps left.
After Kurt Busch hit the wall in Turn 3 on Lap 223, producing the ninth caution of the race, Keselowski took the lead from Brian Vickers on Lap 228 with a strong front-stretch move two laps after the restart. He led for 41 laps before getting passed by Harvick on Lap 269.
“We had a lot of adversity,’’ said Keselowski, who finished seventh. “I made a few mistakes that got us behind, but [crew chief] Paul Wolfe and the crew did a great job of getting us back in position. It was kind of an up-and-down day and I guess we ended on an OK note. We finished seventh, but I was definitely looking for more than that.’’
After running in the top 10 all race long, Logano also plotted on making a run at the victory. When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was spun out by Dale Earnhardt Jr. exiting Turn 4 of Lap 202, crew chief Todd Gordon summoned Logano to the pits for two tires and fuel. “But we were short and we weren’t in a position to finish the race,’’ Gordon said.
When the race was slowed on Lap 247 for debris, Gordon again summoned Logano into the pits.
“I think he’s an awesome offensive player,’’ Gordon said. “So we put four tires on and put fuel in it and let him do his thing. I think it was awesome to watch him restart 16th and I think in four laps he was sixth — [running] high, wide, and handsome.
“That was pretty awesome to watch on the top rolling around there,’’ Gordon added. “And we just put him in a position where he could do what he’s really good at, and that’s wheeling a race car and not having to back up, but let him go forward.’’
As the nine cautions mounted in the last 100 laps of the race, so did the tension on restarts. But none was more decisive than with 30 laps to go when Logano made an aggressive inside move in Turn 1 on Harvick and Keselowski, surging to the lead on the backstretch and wresting the lead for good from Harvick, who led three times for the most laps (104).
Logano had to survive two more restarts when Jeff Gordon locked up his brakes and hit the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 293 and when Tony Stewart got hit from behind by David Gilliland and spun out exiting Turn 4 on Lap 299, inducing a green-white-checkered finish.
It enabled Logano to indulge in an exuberant celebration in Victory Lane. But in no way did it suggest he was going to rest on his laurels, even if he was safe from next weekend’s elimination race at Dover, Del.
“Our goal is to win the championship, so we have to get from round to round,’’ Logano said. “Just because we’re in the next one doesn’t mean we’re going to take a week off next week.’’