CONCORD, N.C. – Congratulations, Joey Logano. You just drew the first get-out-of jail-free card for Talladega.
With a dominating victory in Sunday’s rain-delayed Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Logano punched an early-bird ticket to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Now Logano can take a carefree trip to unpredictable Talladega two weeks hence. The same can’t be said for three of the sports superstars. Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch all had major issues at Charlotte and will have to rebound in the remaining two races of the Contender Round to keep their title hopes alive.
Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford led 227 of the 334 laps and crossed the finish line .703 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick, who posted his 11th runner-up finish of the season to go with three victories.
The win was Logano’s fourth of the season, his first at Charlotte and the 12th of his career. Most important, however, was the free pass into the Eliminator Round.
Logano notched his victory a week after Harvick triumphed at Dover to claw his way back into the Chase.
Denny Hamlin ran fourth, followed by Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. Seventh-place finisher Austin Dillon was the only non-Chase driver in the top nine, with Jeff Gordon coming home eighth in his last ride at the 1.5-mile speedway and Brad Keselowski nursing his No. 2 Ford to the finish line in ninth, after feeling a vibration in the left rear of his car.
Kenseth, the polesitter, led 72 laps in the early going before a litany of issues ultimately knocked him out of the race in 42nd place and left him in dire jeopardy of elimination from the Chase.
Multiple brushes with the outside wall, the first after contact with Carl Edwards Toyota, relegated Earnhardt to a 28th-place finish, four laps down.
After the Oct. 25 race at Talladega, the Chase field will be cut from 12 drivers to eight. Newman finished 15th and is ninth in the standings, four points ahead of Busch.