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Joey Logano earns rain-shortened Sprint Cup victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

LOUDON, N.H. — There is no question Joey Logano is the youngest driver to win in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series.

What the record book will never show is whether he was also the luckiest.

As Logano led with just a handful of laps remaining before he was to stop for fuel, rain halted Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

And when the rain continued, the race was red-flagged after 273 of 300 laps. When no letup appeared in sight, NASCAR called the race.

Logano — at 19 and never a serious threat all afternoon — was declared the winner.

"I figured out that this sport is a roller-coaster earlier this season. I go up and down, up and down, up and down," Logano said. "That is part of this sport. One week you can win and the next you can be 43rd, and it's just like that."

Logano broke the mark held by Kyle Busch, who earned his first series win at age 20 in 2005.

His first full Cup season has had many valleys and few peaks. Through eight races, he had one finish better than 21st — 13th at Las Vegas — and led one lap.

But in eight races before New Hampshire he had started to show consistency, with three top-10 finishes in a four-race span.

"Obviously this is not the way you want to win your first race, in the rain, but 20 years down the road when you look in the record books, no one will know the difference," Logano said. "I'll take them any way I can."

There were plenty of admirers around after the race to remind him of that.

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon paid a visit to Logano's car shortly before the race was officially called. What did he say?

"It doesn't matter how you win them," Gordon said. "I just told him congratulations. I thought (the race) was over. And he was like, 'Don't jinx me, don't jinx me.' "

Logano was so close to an empty tank, his No. 20 Toyota might have run out of fuel if NASCAR had kept the cars on the track for an extended period under caution.

It was the unlikeliest of endings to what had been a frustrating day for Logano and his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

Since qualifying was rained out, he was relegated to starting 24th. Twice he fell a lap down and got back on the lead lap for the final time when Scott Speed's wreck on Lap 190 brought out the caution flag.

As the skies grew darker and the mist heavier Logano's crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, elected to keep Logano out on the track as long as possible.

"Half this sport is about putting yourself in position to have a chance to win, and you know, that's what we did today and everything went our way," Zipadelli said.

"We were lucky, but we put ourselves in position because we were behind. Because we did have problems, it allowed us to pit, top off (the tank) with fuel."

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 4 on the 1.058-mile oval. That cost him a lap, but he got it back on the next caution flag, earning the free pass as the first car a lap down.

And for the second time this season, a rain-shortened race produced a first-time race winner, following David Reutimann of Zephyrhills at Charlotte. Reutimann finished fourth Sunday, just behind Kurt Busch

"We were fortunate, and we know that there will probably be some tough days out there for us," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "But (we're) absolutely thrilled for Joey and his family and for us at Joe Gibbs Racing. We figure we can keep this going, ride this thing for about 20 years."

Gibbs paused, then added: "But I may not be here for the last 10."

BETTER FOR JUNIOR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had one of the most satis­fying 13th-place finishes in his career. Gas strategies and the rain probably cost the crowd favorite a better finish, but Earnhardt ran well, spending most of the day in the top 10 and running quite a bit in the top five. "We ran good," said Earnhardt, in his sixth race with crew chief Lance McGrew. "I want to thank Lance and the team. … They did a good, man, giving me a good car. I had fun. I hope we can keep this up."

Joey Logano earns rain-shortened Sprint Cup victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway 06/28/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 28, 2009 11:36pm]

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