NASCAR Barometer: Logano Snatches Victory in Phoenix

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Snatches Victory in Phoenix

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano leveraged late restarts to take advantage of other drivers' misfortunes to win the Can-Am 500 and advance to Homestead as one of the four Chase contenders to lift the 2016 Sprint Cup trophy. The Penske Racing driver had a fast machine throughout the weekend, but it all came together in the final two overtime restarts of last week's penultimate race.

Matt Kenseth appeared destined to advance with a win with just a handful of laps remaining as Logano battled on the cut-off line to advance in the Chase. A late caution period put Kenseth in restart trouble with Alex Bowman, however. Contact between the pair pushed Logano and Kyle Busch to the top of the order, and both cruised through the final restart to make their way into the championship finale this week at Homestead Miami Speedway. The 2016 season ends in Florida with Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch vying for the biggest prize of the year.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano took advantage of a restart bust-up between Kenseth and Bowman to sweep to victory Sunday in Phoenix. The win moved him into the finale at Homestead with a chance to lift the Sprint Cup for his first title alongside the other three championship contenders. Logano demonstrated speed throughout the weekend in Phoenix and put himself in position to capitalize in the last moments of the race. That was enough to keep his championship hopes alive and he will now focus on taking another

Joey Logano leveraged late restarts to take advantage of other drivers' misfortunes to win the Can-Am 500 and advance to Homestead as one of the four Chase contenders to lift the 2016 Sprint Cup trophy. The Penske Racing driver had a fast machine throughout the weekend, but it all came together in the final two overtime restarts of last week's penultimate race.

Matt Kenseth appeared destined to advance with a win with just a handful of laps remaining as Logano battled on the cut-off line to advance in the Chase. A late caution period put Kenseth in restart trouble with Alex Bowman, however. Contact between the pair pushed Logano and Kyle Busch to the top of the order, and both cruised through the final restart to make their way into the championship finale this week at Homestead Miami Speedway. The 2016 season ends in Florida with Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Logano and Kyle Busch vying for the biggest prize of the year.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano took advantage of a restart bust-up between Kenseth and Bowman to sweep to victory Sunday in Phoenix. The win moved him into the finale at Homestead with a chance to lift the Sprint Cup for his first title alongside the other three championship contenders. Logano demonstrated speed throughout the weekend in Phoenix and put himself in position to capitalize in the last moments of the race. That was enough to keep his championship hopes alive and he will now focus on taking another shot at earning his first Sprint Cup with a strong weekend in Florida. At Homestead he has a best finish of fourth, which came last season when he led 72 of the 267 laps.

Kyle Busch – Busch joined teammate Edwards in the championship finale by finishing second in Phoenix on Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing contingent took two of the final four spots in the Chase, and Busch will now have a chance to defend his maiden title from 2015. He won at Homestead last season to hoist the biggest trophy of the season, and he'll be aiming to replicate that effort again this week. His average Miami finish is 21.1 from 11 career starts, which includes two DNFs. While the statistics may not be on his side, Busch has a tendency to rise to the occasion, and Sunday is a huge occasion. He should be a top fantasy option in this week's final race.

Kyle Larson – An early spin put an otherwise promising weekend well behind on Sunday. Larson had shown speed that was capable of challenging at the front of the field in Phoenix, but it all went away just after the race started. He and the team rallied to fight back and found themselves inside the top five finishers after the final restarts. The third-place finish was a just reward for a strong weekend and earned the No. 42 team their ninth top-five of the season. Wins haven't been as frequent as hoped, but they remain just on the horizon. Larson finished fifth at Homestead last season but will need more luck on his side than he had at the Can-Am 500 to match that result.

Paul Menard – Menard hasn't had much to smile about in 2016, but Sunday's outing in Phoenix was one of the rare spots of success. The veteran driver has been a shadow of his potential self throughout most of the season but quietly worked his way into a top-10 finish in the penultimate race of the season. The 10th-place finish was just his third top-10 of the year, which means regardless of what he achieves next week in Homestead, 2016 will be the lowest tally of top-10 finishes he has achieved in the series in the last seven years. His only top-10 at Homestead was a fourth-place finish in 2014, but his 2016 season represents the work Richard Childress Racing needs to do this winter.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Not only did Truex suffer from not being able to prepare his backup car in time to qualify but he also made a misstep on pit road early in Sunday's race by overtaking the pace car on the pit entry under yellow. The punishment was to be held by NASCAR for a lap, after which the No. 78 still had to pit for service. Truex returned to action two laps down to leaders and nearly completely out of contention. Not all is lost for him, however. His average finish at Homestead is 10.2 from 11 career starts, and it wouldn't be farfetched to think Truex can close out his strongest season in the series with a victory this week.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson was the second driver to run afoul of passing the pace car entering pit road under caution. The penalty dropped the No. 48 from the head of the order all the way down to the runners a lap behind when the green flag returned. That poor track position resulted in an accordion-style pile up that effectively ended any chance Johnson had of working his way back to the front. He was forced to the garage to make extensive repairs that doomed his chances for a top finish. In the end, it doesn't matter because Johnson has a spot in Homestead locked for the title fight. His best finish at the track is second, though. He finished ninth in the last three Miami finales.

Austin Dillon – Dillon lost power on a restart, which resulted in a pileup that sent him spinning. After the contact, his car also failed to start, and he sat idly by while the rest of the field put him multiple laps down. Dillon has two Homestead starts in his Sprint Cup career and has a best finish of just 14th at the south Florida track. While he advanced further in the Chase than expected, the 2016 season hasn't been as good as the No. 3 team had hoped for. The progress has been coming slowly, though. Better results are bound to arrive for the organization in future seasons, but his 39th-place finish with the trouble on Sunday will take some time to heal.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth's championship hopes went up in a cloud of smoke for the second season in a row. The veteran driver was in prime position to win in Phoenix and advance to the finale in Homestead before colliding with Bowman on an overtime restart that sent him into the wall and out of the championship hunt for the second year running. Kenseth finished 21st with rear-end damage, which wasn't high enough to keep his championship flame alight. He has two wins in 2016 and still has a chance to add one more to that tally, though. His lone Homestead victory came in 2007 and has five top-10 finishes in the last six races at the track.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Alex Bowman – Speed hasn't been a problem for Bowman since he joined the No. 88 team as a substitute driver. He scored his first Sprint Cup pole in Phoenix and was the car to beat in the first half of Sunday's race. In fact, the substitute was in contention for the race victory all the way up until the final restart when he collided with Kenseth. The damage knocked Kenseth out of the lead, but Bowman was able to recover to finish sixth. It was a tremendous effort, and he should have done enough at this point to earn a true chance in the series next season. The young driver has two Homestead starts with a best finish of 26th, but he's in much better equipment now than he ever has been.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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