Racing: Logano dominates at North Wilkesboro

Published 2:45 am Monday, May 20, 2024

By STEVE REED AP Sports Writer

NORTH WILKESBORO — A little prep work paid off for Joey Logano.

Logano dominated the short track at North Wilkesboro Speedway leading all but one of 200 laps to win his second All-Star Race on Sunday night and earn $1 million.

Logano started on the pole after posting the fastest time in qualifying on Saturday and was never really challenged, setting a record by leading more laps than any driver has in the race’s 40-year history.

“We were so fast,” Logano said. “We came here before for testing and ran over 800 laps and really figured out what it was going to take to win the race.”

Logano compared it to a scene in the movie “Miracle” about the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team with crew chief Paul Wolfe making him run lap after lap until he was completely exhausted.

“It’s like when the coach is making the team run the suicide drills and he keeps saying, ‘Again! Again!,’” Logano said. “That was Paul Wolfe to me with the testing. I ran 800 laps. I was sore and I had enough.”

Logano has not won a points race this season, so he said this was a big boost for his team.

“The first thing that goes through your mind is gosh, I wish this counted for points,” Logano said. “But let’s be honest, a million is a lot of money and counts for something.”

He also won the All-Star Race in 2016.

Denny Hamlin finished second and Chris Buescher third in a race that lacked drama for the second straight year at the renovated track.

Kyle Larson, who arrived about an hour before the race after spending the afternoon qualifying fifth for the Indianapolis 500 and flying to North Wilkesboro, finished fourth and came up short in the quest to tie Jimmie Johnson for the most All-Star Race wins with four after starting at the back of the field.

The newly paved track and different versions of soft tires were supposed to create more passing. They didn’t.

Hamlin admitted afterward that he just couldn’t get the lead.

“I would run to him, and then you couldn’t pass,” Hamlin said. “I would lose a little bit of air there, and I would try to give my car a break and then run to him again — just have to be so much faster to get around.”

Said Logano: “If it wasn’t for the clean air (and being out front) I would not have won.”

Team Penske president Michael Nelson called it a great day for the organization after they swept the top three starting spots at Indianapolis 500 earlier in the day.

“We have been close this year (in NASCAR) and to finally make it happen on a day like today, if you had to wait this was the day to get that done,” Nelson said. “A great day for Mr. Penske and the whole organization.”

There only real fireworks came on the second lap when Kyle Busch sent Ricky Stenhouse Jr. into the wall after Stenhouse tried to pass him on the first lap. An upset Stenhouse pulled his wrecked car down pit lane and parked in Busch’s pit stall, got out and climbed a ladder to yell at Busch’s crew.

Afterward, Stenhouse confronted Busch in the pits, then threw a punch at Busch igniting a scuffle that involved members of both crews. Stenhouse said that he was tired of Busch “running his mouth talking about me” after he had wrecked him at Daytona in the past.

“I know he is frustrated because he doesn’t run as well as he used to,” Stenhouse said after the race.

Larson was the big story ahead of the race.

He arrived at North Wilkesboro Speedway about an hour before the race following a busy afternoon

His plane landed at Wilkes County Airport and was then transported via helicopter to the racetrack and then taken by golf cart to his hauler to begin preparations for the 200-lap exhibition race.

Fans cheered his arrival into the track and he waved to them along the way.

NASCAR and its broadcast partner FOX helped accommodate the sport’s star attraction and points leader by moving the start of the race back 16 minutes to 8:30 p.m. to ensure he would arrive in time after shocking some in the racing world by qualifying for the Fast 6 at Indianapolis.

Larson will have to do it again next weekend when he attempts to run the double and finish the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Seventeen drivers qualified for the race based on their past accomplishments. All-Star Open winner Ty Gibbs and second place finisher Bubba Wallace advanced into the race on Sunday, along with fan vote winner Noah Gragson.

Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus marveled at what Larson was able to do in his first qualifying runs in Indianapolis in an open-wheel racecar against the best drivers in the world.

“We were watching him run and we were like, my gosh, I can’t believe this,” Knaus said. “I was like my goodness how did that happen? Very limited track time. Did a couple of tests. Was able to go up there and he holds a pretty good wheel as anybody I have seen. He is a phenomenal talent. He gets it. He is so emotionally stable. You can put him in just about any environment and he is going to excel.”