MADISON, Ill. — Joey Logano jockeyed for the lead with Kyle Busch in overtime, got around him for good just before the white flag flew and cruised to victory Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series’ debut at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Logano made it a banner 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 that, racing for the lead like that with Kyle, one of the best, crossing each other back and forth,” Logano said. “I knew it was coming. I did it to him. I knew he was going to do it to me.”
Kurt Busch finished third with Logano’s teammate, Ryan Blaney, fourth and Aric Almirola in fifth in a wild race that contained plenty of drama involving Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott deeper in the field.
Chastain got into both of them at different points, leading to a series of on-track retaliations.
“It was terrible driving,” Chastain said afterward. “It’s one thing to do it once. I kept driving into guys. At this level I have to be better than that. It’s a shame. I had all these people believing in me. They deserve better.”
By the end, Logano had watched Kyle Busch drive away from him on a restart with 13 laps remaining, then got another chance when Kevin Harvick crashed with five to go. That led to a green-white-checkered finish at the 1¼-mile hairpin east of St. Louis, and Busch chose the outside lane as Logano drove his No. 22 car to the inside once again.
This time it was Logano who won the drag race to Turn 1 and moved up in front of Busch, who crossed him over and took the lead into the sweeping third and fourth turns. That’s where Logano went low and pulled ahead, gaining the space he needed to pull away when Busch got a little sideways coming out of Turn 4.
The first Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway, nestled just across the Mississippi River from the Gateway Arch and downtown St. Louis, produced a thrilling throwback to the early years of NASCAR, when tempers in the cars ran just as hot as the temperature outside — it soared over 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun.
Chastain had a lot to do with it.
The trouble for the eighth-generation watermelon farmer began in Stage 2, when Chastain ran up on the rear end of Hamlin’s car coming out of the hairpin first and second turns and sent the No. 11 into the outside wall.
Hamlin spent the rest of the afternoon trying to get even: He nearly drove Chastain down onto the grass down the backstretch, then slowed to a crawl around the track and nearly kept him from making the minimum speed.
“It’s good he takes responsibility but ultimately it ruined our day,” Hamlin said. “I think we were racing hard there for a while on the inside. He tried to keep sliding up in front of us and wasn’t able to because I wasn’t willing to just back off and let him slide up front. It didn’t take long before he tucked behind us that he wrecked us.”
Hamlin had some support, too. Chastain got into Elliott’s quarter panel later in the stage, spinning him out. And when the race resumed, Elliott nearly nudged Chastain into the wall before Hamlin took a swipe at him.
All the drama kept a sellout crowd of more than 60,000 on its feet in the blistering afternoon sun.
Chastain wound up finishing seventh, Elliott was 21st and Hamlin finished 11 laps down in 34th place.
FRONT TO BACK
AJ Allmendinger won the Xfinity race Saturday in Portland, Oregon, then flew to St. Louis to start at the rear of the field Sunday. Ben Rhodes was supposed to qualify his No. 15 for Kaulig Racing but crashed in Turn 3 during practice and did not make an attempt. Allmendinger drove through the field to finish 10th.
Zane Smith, who was ninth in the Truck series race 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 starts in the Cup Series when he took the green flag. His first came at Atlanta on Oct. 31, 2004, for Dale Earnhardt Inc. The 2017 series champion finished sixth in Sunday’s race.
The Cup Series heads to the road course at Sonoma in California’s wine country next Sunday before taking a week off.