CONCORD, N.C. — Joey Logano has been to Victory Lane four times this season, and all four trips have required him to beat reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick.
The latest victory, Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, was critical. Logano shrugged off Harvick and led 227 of 334 laps in the Bank of America 500 to earn an automatic berth into the third round of NASCAR's Chase for the Championship.
Harvick has 11 second-place finishes this season, including in three of Logano's wins.
"When you can beat (Harvick) any day, any time, that's a big deal for us," team owner Roger Penske said. "I think that it was good that we could at least be on a level playing field with him (Sunday)."
Now Logano, who stayed in Chase contention until the finale at Homestead last season, doesn't have to worry about this daunting second round. The series races next week at Kansas, then four of 12 drivers will be eliminated Oct. 25 at Talladega.
"It helps us sleep here the next couple of weeks," Logano said.
Harvick, who didn't lead a lap of a race that was scheduled for Saturday night but pushed to Sunday afternoon because of rain, was satisfied with second after struggling all weekend.
"If those are the off days, we'll be just fine," Harvick said.
Martin Truex was third — his career-best eighth top-five of the season — and the top six finishers were Chase drivers as Denny Hamlin ran fourth, followed by Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards.
It was a far more difficult day for Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, who started side by side on the front row for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kenseth missed his pit stall on an early stop and fell back to 20th on a restart. Then, after several brushes with the wall, he served a penalty for too many crewmen working on his car and was put out of his misery when a broken part sent him into the wall again and to the garage with a 42nd-place finish.
"Everything kind of snowballed," the pole-sitter said. "This is the best I can do. It's amazing I have a job. One thing led to another and then another."
Things weren't much better for teammate Busch, who was 20th after a collision with Kyle Larson put him behind.
Formula One: Lewis Hamilton took a huge step toward retaining his title by winning the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi as main rival and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg failed to finish. Rosberg's pole-sitting car stopped after seven laps with a throttle problem.