BRISTOL, Tenn. – In a wild overtime finish, Joey Logano took home the trophy from the first NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt in 51 years by winning Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Logano pulled away from Denny Hamlin through a green-flag run to start the final 50-lap stage, then held off a charging Ricky Stenhouse Jr. over the two-lap overtime sprint by .554 seconds for the victory.
Prior to the extra distance, Logano made the race-winning pass with eight laps left in stage two, laying the bumper to then-leader Daniel Suarez on lap 193 and driving off into the distance.
Once he took the top spot, Logano paced the final 61 laps en route to his 27th career Cup Series win.
It was Logano’s third victory at Bristol, but his first in the track’s annual spring event. He also becomes the seventh different winner in the seven Cup Series races held so far this year.
“Man, this is incredible. How about Bristol on dirt?” said Logano in victory lane. “This is incredible, it’s an unbelievable race track – a great job by everyone that prepped the track. Obviously, (it took) a lot of work over here the last few days. We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks. My buddy Ryan Flores and my car chief Jerry Kelley did a good job with the modified and helped me with making laps and learning where I was going. A lot of that helped.
“This team gave me a great car, obviously, to be able to execute the race that we did and get a win. But I was getting nervous,” Logano added. “There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there have been typically that I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the playoffs.’ It’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into victory lane at Bristol.
“There’s nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”
Before Logano’s move for the win, the track – and the race – underwent a variety of changes as the 39-car field navigated the Cup Series’ first event on a dirt surface since Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C.
Hamlin led the opening lap around the half-mile, dirt-covered high banks, but it was the only lap he’d spend out front all race long as two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates – Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – quickly moved forward.
Busch led laps two through eight, his first laps out front all season, before Truex – who commanded the Truck Series race earlier in the afternoon – took over and paced the next 126 laps uncontested.
Truex won the first stage, which ended at lap 100, but lost the lead on lap 135 when Suarez moved him off the bottom groove in turn three and muscled his way to the point for Justin Marks’ Trackhouse Racing team.
From there, Suarez held serve for the next 58 laps before Logano got past and never looked back.
The final stage, which kicked off with 49 to go, looked set to go caution-free until past World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion and dirt late model veteran Mike Marlar spun on the frontstretch coming to four laps left in regulation.
That set up the race-deciding sprint to the checkered flag, with Logano darting to the bottom entering turn one, where the track had begun to take rubber and was faster than the far outside groove.
In contrast, Hamlin tried to rail the outside in turns one and two in an effort to make a charge at Logano down the backstretch, but with “no grip in the marbles,” he ultimately lost second place to Stenhouse.
Stenhouse’s rally to a runner-up finish came from fourth when the green flag waved for the final time.
“Our Kroger Camaro was really good all day,” noted Stenhouse, who cut his teeth on dirt in midgets and sprint cars earlier in his career. “We just needed a little bit more NOS Energy Drink for the restarts. I just couldn’t get going and couldn’t get the turn in the race car that we needed. We made a ton of adjustments and went back and forth overnight about what we were going to do. (Kyle) Larson and I came out and hung with the track crew. Steve Swift and the boys did a great job of getting this thing raceable today (after all the rain that hit the Bristol area Saturday night into Sunday). I had a blast.”
Hamlin’s third-place finish came after many thought he might attempt a tactical bump-and-run pass to steal the win away from Logano following the final restart. However, he saw the last laps differently.
“That was about the only thing I could do there,” lamented Hamlin of his top-side attempt at the end. “Really had the top ripping there for a couple laps and that was my opportunity to get the 22 (Logano). I ran him back down and then just kind of stalled out there behind him. I went back to the top and jumped the cushion, got a bunch of damage and that was all she wrote. All effort there.
“Man, I thought I had a shot,” Hamlin added. “I cut him (Logano) too many breaks there when he was cutting us off, but at the end of the day it looked like he had a little bit better car in the long run.”
Suarez faded to fourth, with Ryan Newman crossing the finish line fifth. For each driver in the top five, Monday either set or matched their best finish of the Cup Series season through seven races.
William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott closed out the top 10.
Prior to the finish, NASCAR and track officials confirmed that the spring NASCAR weekend at Bristol will be run on dirt once again next season.
After a weekend off for Easter, the NASCAR Cup Series returns to action April 10 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.