MADISON, Ill. — Joey Logano played the lead with Kyle Busch in overtime, rounded him for good just before the white flag flew, and took the win on Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series debut at World Wide Technology Raceway .
Logano made it a highlight day for Team Penske, which won the IndyCar race with Will Power earlier in the day in Detroit.
“It doesn’t get much better than this, running for the lead like this with Kyle, one of the best, crossing back and forth,” Logano said. “I knew it was going to happen. I did it to him. I knew he was going to do it to me.”
Kurt Busch finished second with Logano’s teammate Ryan Blaney fourth and Aric Almirola fifth in a wild ride that contained plenty of drama involving Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott deeper in the pack.
Chastain entered both at different times, resulting in a series of on-track retaliation.
“It was terrible driving,” Chastain said afterwards. “It’s one thing to do it once. I kept going after guys. At this level, I have to be better than that. It’s a shame. I had all these people who believed in me. They deserve better.”
In the end, Logano saw Kyle Busch pull away from him on a restart with 13 laps to go, then had another chance when Kevin Harvick crashed out with five to go. This led to a green-white checkerboard finish at the hairpin 1¼ mile east of St. Louis, and Busch chose the outside lane as Logano again drove his #22 car toward the interior.
This time, it was Logano who won the drag race to Turn 1 and got past Busch, who passed him and took the lead in the third and fourth turns. That’s where Logano came down and pulled ahead, gaining the space he needed to pull away when Busch lateralized slightly on the exit of Turn 4.
The first Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway, nestled just across the Mississippi River from Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis, produced an exciting throwback to NASCAR’s early years, when temperaments in the cars were as hot as the temperature outside – it soared to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun.
Chastain has a lot to do with it.
Trouble for the eighth-generation watermelon farmer began in Stage 2, when Chastain ran over the rear of Hamlin coming out of the first and second hairpin turns and sent the No. 11 into the outside wall.
Hamlin spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get revenge: he nearly drove Chastain through the grass on the backstretch, then slowed to crawl around the track and nearly stopped him from reaching the minimum speed.
“It’s good that he takes responsibility, but it ended up ruining our day,” Hamlin said. “I think we ran hard there for a while on the inside. He tried to keep sliding past us and couldn’t because I wasn’t ready to back up and let him slide past .It didn’t take long before he was hiding behind us that he destroyed us.”
Hamlin also had support. Chastain entered Elliott’s quarterback later in the scene, spinning him. And when the race resumed, Elliott almost pushed Chastain against the wall before Hamlin shot him.
All the drama kept a sold-out crowd of more than 60,000 standing in the scorching afternoon sun.
Chastain was seventh, Elliott was 21st and Hamlin finished 11 laps in 34th place.
FRONT TO BACK
AJ Allmendinger won the Xfinity race on Saturday in Portland, Oregon, then flew to St. Louis to start at the back of the pack on Sunday. Ben Rhodes was supposed to qualify his #15 for Kaulig Racing but crashed at Turn 3 in practice and didn’t test. Allmendinger raced through the pack to finish 10th.
Zane Smith, who finished ninth in the Truck Series race on Saturday, made his Cup Series debut in place of Chris Buescher, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the week. Smith drove the No. 17 to a 17th-place finish for RFK Racing.
Martin Truex Jr. became the 32nd driver to make 600 Cup Series starts when he took the green flag. His first was in Atlanta on October 31, 2004 for Dale Earnhardt Inc. The 2017 series champion finished sixth in Sunday’s race.
The Cup Series will head to the Sonoma road course in California wine country next Sunday before taking a week off.