Team Penske's Joey Logano became the first driver to secure a position in the Championship 4 with a shot at the NASCAR Cup Series 2022 Championship thanks to a valiant surge to victory in the final laps of Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Logano, on fresh Goodyear tires, rallied back through the field following a late race pit stop, passing Trackhouse Racing driver Ross Chastain for the lead with three laps remaining and driving off to his third win at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas high banks - a slight .817-second ahead of fellow Playoff driver Chastain, who led a race best 68 of the 267 laps on the afternoon.
“Let’s go get a championship, baby,’’ the 2018 series champion Logano screamed into his team radio after taking the checkered flag in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
That pit stop for Logano with 26 laps remaining, dropped him from a top-10 position on track, but the fresh tires were the difference in making up ground on the leaders who did not pit.
And Logano went forward quickly.
“What a great car, the Penske cars were all fast today,” said the 32-year old Logano, who now has three wins in 2022 and 30 in his 15-year career in NASCAR’s top series.
“Oh man, all you want to do is get to the Championship 4 before the season starts and race for the championship and we’ve got the team to do it. I don’t see why we can’t win it at this point. Things are looking really good for us.
“A lot of adversity we fought though in the last 50 laps of so. I thought we were going to win then kinda fell out, got some tires and racing Ross was fun. He did a good job air-blocking me and I was just trying to be patient but eventually I was like, ‘I’ve got to go here.’ “
It was a wild action-packed day at the Las Vegas oval with the eight Playoff drivers experiencing both sides of emotion. Five of them were among the 11 race leaders at various points on the afternoon. And four finished in the top five.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, who had some pit road issues, finished third, followed by a pair of Playoff drivers: Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, who rounded out the top five. It was an especially impressive performance for Hamlin, who started 31st.
Hendrick Motorsports Playoff teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott had frustrating and disappointing days, finishing 13th and 21st, respectively. Logano’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney - who won Stage 2 and led 39 laps - finished 28th after hitting the wall late in the race. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell was 34th after being innocently collected in an early-race accident.
“When you perform that poorly you get poor results, that’s how it works,’’ the regular season champion Elliott said of his day.
Elliott went into this three-race round leading the standings and after Vegas has dropped to third in the championship, 17 points above the cutoff line. Logano earned the automatic advancement Sunday and Chastain is now in second place, 18 points up.
Hamlin’s top five was good enough to move him into that important fourth place in the championship – six points up on Byron. The 4 “Bs” are now all in the bottom half of the Playoff points. Briscoe is nine points behind Hamlin, Blaney 11 back and Bell is 23 points off the pace.
One of the most talked about incidents in the race involved a pair of non-championship-eligible drivers. Shortly after the re-start following Stage 1, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson and 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace – who won Stage 1 - were racing alongside one another toward the front of the field. On lap 94, Larson’s No. 5 Chevy got loose and moved up the track, forcing Wallace’s car into the outside wall.
Wallace’s No. 45 Toyota bounced down off the wall and then he drove into Larson’s car, spinning both - with Playoff driver Bell getting tagged by Larson’s spinning Chevy in the aftermath. After Wallace and Larson’s cars came to rest in the infield, Wallace took his helmet off and marched toward Larson, who was just getting out of his car.
The two exchanged words and Wallace pushed Larson multiple times before walking away.
“You get shoved into the fence deliberately like he [Larson] did trying to force me to lift, the steering was gone,’’ Wallace said, when asked if he intentionally spun Larson. “He just happened to be there.
“Hate it for our team. Super fast car. Larson wanted to make a three-wide dive bomb but never cleared me and I don’t lift. I know I’m kinda new running at the front, but I don’t lift, was never in a spot to lift and he never lifted either. Now we’re junk. Just piss poor move on his execution.
“He knows what he did was wrong. He never cleared me and just hate it for my team.’’
For his part, Larson said he realized he got into Wallace and wasn’t entirely surprised by Wallace’s aggression afterward. However, Larson said, he didn’t hit Wallace intentionally.
“I knew he was going to retaliate,’’ Larson said. “He had reason to be mad but his race wasn’t over until he retaliated. It is what it is. Just aggression turned into frustration and he retaliated.”
“I know he’s probably still upset but I’m sure with everything going on he’ll know he made a mistake in the retaliation part and I’m sure he’ll think twice about it next time,’’ Larson added.
“I saw him walking over [toward me] so I figured he’d do something. He had every right to be upset and I’d rather him do that [push me] than tear up our cars in a dangerous manner.’’
While the incident ended Wallace and Larson’s days, it also ruined the afternoon for Bell, who won an elimination race just last week to advance to the Round of 8. His Joe Gibbs Racing team was unable to repair his No. 20 Toyota and he pulled off track, finishing 34th in the 36-car field – worst among the eight Playoff drivers.
Playoff action resumes next weekend with Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). William Byron won the 2021 Homestead race, which was held in February last year.