CONCORD, N.C. – Joey Logano earned a critical victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway to move into the third round of NASCAR's playoffs on a sloppy day for some of the biggest contenders in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Logano raced to his fourth victory of the season and his first career win at Charlotte. It came in the opening race of the second round of the Chase and earned him the automatic berth into the next round.
Logano made it to the finale last season and, like almost all of the 12 remaining drivers in the Chase, worried that this second round was the most daunting. The series races next week at Kansas and then four drivers will be eliminated Oct.25 at Talladega.
"It helps us sleep here the next couple of weeks," the Team Penske driver said. "This helps us recharge our batteries and get ready for the next round."
Kevin Harvick, who routed the field last week at Dover to keep his title defense intact, finished second for the 11th time this season. He has been second to Logano three times but considered it almost a victory because he felt the reigning Sprint Cup champions had struggled most of the weekend.
"If those are the off days, we'll be just fine," Harvick said.
Martin Truex Jr. finished third — his career-best eighth top-five of the season — but wasn't breathing any easier about his Chase hopes.
"Logano is the only one who is going to sleep the next few weeks," Truex said. "We still think we need to win next week."
The top six finishers were Chase drivers as Denny Hamlin finished fourth and was followed by Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards.
Austin Dillon, who is not racing for the title, was seventh. Jeff Gordon, making the final start of his career at Charlotte, struggled for the first half of the race but salvaged an eighth-place finish.
It was a far more difficult day for JGR drivers Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who started side-by-side on the front row.
Kenseth's race began to unravel when he missed his pit stall and fell back to 20th on a restart. From there, racing in traffic, he had contact with Ryan Newman that sent him into the wall. It was the first of many brushes with the wall for Kenseth, who also had to serve a penalty for too many crewmen working on his car during one of his stops for repairs.
He finally was put out of his misery when a broken part sent him into the wall — again — and to the garage. He finished 42nd and dropped to last in the Chase field.