Daytona Beach, FL (SportsNetwork.com) – Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 for the first time after holding off the field in a green-white-checkered finish on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Logano, the driver of the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske, claimed his ninth career victory in the Sprint Cup Series. His previous best finish in the Daytona 500 was ninth, which occurred in the 2012 race. Logano became the first driver this season to be virtually guaranteed of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
At age 24 years, 8 months and 29 days, Logano also became the second-youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500. Trevor Bayne set the record when he won this event one day after he turned 20 years old in 2011.
“I can’t believe it. This is absolutely amazing,” Logano said of his Daytona 500 victory. “This is awesome. The Daytona 500 – Oh my God. Are you kidding me? I was so nervous pretty much the whole race. This is our weakest racetrack, these superspeedways. We were terrible at them last year. But we worked really hard, and hard work gives you results every time.”
This year’s Daytona 500 featured one of the most thrilling conclusions in the 57-year history of this prestigious race, with drivers battling three-wide for the lead during the closing stages. Logano moved to the front on lap 191 and then held the lead for the final 13 laps around this 2.5-mile superspeedway.
An accident involving Justin Allgaier and Ty Dillon on the frontstretch on lap 197 forced a caution and therefore led to the two-lap overtime finish. NASCAR briefly halted the race to allow track workers to remove Allgaier’s damaged car from the track.
After the final restart, Logano got pushing help from Clint Bowyer to put him ahead of the pack. Kevin Harvick, the defending Sprint Cup champion, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won the Daytona 500 last year, mounted a charge towards Logano just before the field crossed the line to complete the penultimate lap.
But Harvick and Earnhardt were unsuccessful in their attempts to pass Logano for the lead on the final lap when the race ended under caution due to an eight-car wreck on the backstretch. Jeff Gordon, the pole sitter, triggered the big crash when he spun and hit the wall after Austin Dillon had bumped into his left rear.
“I saw (on the final lap) that we were single file, the first three cars, and I knew that was a good thing because it would be harder for them to form a run,” Logano said. “Then I saw them crash in the mirror, but I had a distance to go. I thought that was good because it was still going to be harder for them to catch up without as many cars in the pack. Then the caution came out. That feeling of winning the Daytona 500, I can’t explain how cool this is.”
As a child growing up in Middletown, Connecticut, Logano had dreamt of one day winning the Daytona 500. On Sunday, he did.
“It feels just like the way you dream it,” he said. “This is better than Disney World in here.”
Logano gave team owner Roger Penske his second Daytona 500 victory. Ryan Newman delivered “The Captain” his first win in this race in 2008. Penske has a record 15 team owner victories in the Indianapolis 500.
“Obviously, the Indy 500 has meant a lot to me, but to win this race at all is something special,” Penske said.
Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500, ended up finishing second.
“It was a good, solid day for us to start the season,” Harvick said. “You want to try to win the race, but sometimes you’re just happy to keep rolling and going out of here and head to Atlanta (next weekend’s race) with a solid day.”
Earnhardt had attempted to become the first driver to win the Daytona 500 in consecutive years since Sterling Marlin last accomplished the feat from 1994-95.
“Congratulations to Joey. He’s done a good job the last several years. I’m sure it’s a great feeling for him,” said Earnhardt, who finished third.
Denny Hamlin placed fourth, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Casey Mears and Bowyer. Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle completed the top-10.
Gordon wound up finishing 33rd in what was his 23rd and final Daytona 500. He led a race high 87 laps. Last month, Gordon announced that 2015 would be his last season in Sprint Cup competition.
“What an amazing car we had,” Gordon said. “I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I’m more upset we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”
Gordon won the Daytona 500 three times — 1997, ’99 and 2005. He is also a four-time series champion.
Tony Stewart caused a seven-car wreck on the frontstretch on lap 41 when he got loose and then bumped into Ryan Blaney before making contact with the wall. Stewart sustained cosmetic and suspension damage to the front end of his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. He returned to the track after lengthy repairs but eventually came back to the garage to call it a day.
Stewart, finishing 42nd, remains winless in 17 Daytona 500 attempts.
Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, was one of those involved in the lap 41 accident, suffering no significant damage to his car, but Keselowski experienced engine failure on lap 161, putting him out of the race with a 41st-place finish.
“It’s a shame,” Keselowski said. “We were running up in the top-10, and it just broke. That’s the way it goes.”
Regan Smith, who replaced Kurt Busch in the No. 41 car following Busch’s indefinite suspension by NASCAR for domestic violence allegations, finished 16th.
“Started off really tight with the race car and never got it turning,” Smith said. “I don’t know, kind of frustrating. I actually anticipated a much better day and nothing much more to show for it. Those guys (No. 41 team) did a nice job all weekend, but we just plowed through the corners.”
Busch’s younger brother, Kyle, was also absent in the Daytona 500 after he sustained a compound fracture of his right lower leg and a mid-foot fracture of his left foot during an accident in Saturday’s 300-mile Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Busch remains hospitalized at Halifax Medical Center in Daytona Beach.
Matt Crafton, the two-time defending Camping World Truck Series champion, substituted for Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Crafton placed 18th in his first career Sprint Cup start.
“It was a learning curve,” Crafton said. “The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn. I made a mistake. I had a pretty good surge up top, and I tried the bottom and shuffled myself all the way to the back. I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.”