Teen gets first victory at rain-shortened Lenox Tools
Published 2:52 am Monday, June 29, 2009
LOUDON, N.H. — Teenager Joey Logano became the youngest winner in the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup series Sunday, winning the rain-shortened race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The precocious 19-year-old rookie came back from a crash that put him a lap down earlier in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and won his first Cup race in his 20th start.
Logano was among a group of drivers who moved to the front of the field after getting out of sequence on fuel stops. The youngster took the lead when Ryan Newman, trying to stay on track as long as possible with rain threatening, ran out of gas on lap 264 in the event scheduled to go 301 laps.
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Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon moved into second and was steadily cutting into the lead as Logano, with a nearly empty gas tank, conserved as much fuel as possible. But the rain began falling three laps later.
The competitors ran six slow laps under caution before NASCAR put out a red flag in hopes of drying the track. But the rain began falling harder and the race was called after 273 laps.
‘‘I guess I’d rather be lucky than good right now,’’ Logano said as he waited for the decision. ‘‘Obviously, we didn’t have the car to win, but we’ve overcome a lot today: tires down and more issues than you can imagine.’’
Logano, 19 years, one month and four days old, broke the record set by Kyle Busch for the youngest winner. Busch, now 24, was 20 years, four months and two days when he won for the first time at California in Sept. 2005.
Logano was first spotted as a 15-year-old by NASCAR star Mark Martin, who predicted greatness for the youngster. He been on the fast track ever since, winning races at every level and beating some of NASCAR’s top developmental drivers along the way.
To his embarrassment, Logano earned the nickname ‘‘Sliced Bread,’’ as in, ‘‘the greatest thing since … ‘‘
After two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to become an owner-driver, Gibbs turned over the No. 20 Toyota that the Stewart had driven for the last 10 years to Logano. He also inherited veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who worked with Stewart through that entire period.
‘‘(Zipadelli) said to just stay out, rain’s in the area,’’ Logano said. ‘‘So we started saving a little bit of fuel … It’s a dream come true, that’s for sure.’’
It was a virtual home victory for Logano, who was raised in Middletown, Conn.
Gordon was disappointed with the second-place finish.
‘‘I felt like we had the best car,’’ Gordon said. ‘‘The guys got us out first on our last pit stop, but it just got us out ahead of the guys we were racing with.’’
He congratulated Logano and said Zipadelli made ‘‘a gutsy call’’ leaving the youngster on track.
‘‘I was trying to get him to use as much fuel on the caution laps as I could,’’ Gordon said, grinning. ‘‘I thought for sure he was going to run out of gas. But we’re here on pit road and it’s raining hard, so I guess it worked out for him.’’
Kurt Busch, who won a rain-shortened event here last June, finished third, followed by David Reutimann and Stewart, now part owner of his own team and the series leader by 69 points over Gordon.
The race was slowed by 11 caution flags for 47 laps. The ninth one was brought out when Logano spun in heavy traffic, hitting the wall in turn four on the 1.058-mile oval.
That cost Logano a lap, but he got it back on the next caution flag, earning the free pass as the first car a lap down.
There were several other crashes in the race, the worst an eight-car wreck on lap 175 that took out contenders Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton and Brian Vickers.
It appeared that Dale Earnhardt Jr., in third at the time, spun his tires on a restart and Truex, right behind him, slowed and was hit from behind by Kyle Busch, igniting the melee.
An angry Truex waited on track for Busch, who eventually finished seventh, to drive past under caution and made as if to throw his helmet.
‘‘I guess Kyle just decided he didn’t want to lift, so I was just an innocent victim today,’’ Truex said. ‘‘Someone spun the tires and our lane didn’t go. Kyle just lost his head like he usually does when something bad happens.’’