KANSAS CITY, Kan. - So many drivers studied NASCAR's new Chase for the Championship format and singled out the second round as the one they feared most.
The three-race stretch of Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega will knock four drivers from the field, and none wanted their title hopes to depend on a good day at wild, unpredictable Talladega. It meant Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway was crucial.
Kansas lived up to its reputation as four Chase drivers finished 22nd or worse in a race plagued by tire problems for several contenders.
No such trouble for Joey Logano, who earned the victory and an automatic berth into the third round of the Chase.
"This is nice to get this win and get us through to the next round and not have to worry about Talladega," Logano said. "We came into here thinking we need a solid finish - we can't win the championship (at Kansas), but we can definitely lose it."
That was the harsh reality for six-time and defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne, and Logano's Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski.
Johnson was wrecked early and finished 40th, and Earnhardt had a tire problem while leading that caused him to wreck and finish 39th. Keselowski was 36th after his tire problem, and Kahne thought a tire issue caused him to hit the wall and finish 22nd. "It just means we've got to be on our game at Charlotte and Talladega," Johnson said. "We'll see how the other Chasers fare. ... Certainly need W's, I would assume, going forward."
Earnhardt, who led 45 laps, was encouraged despite the result.
"Just the whole surface of the tire unwound like a string. It just came off the tire and it popped off the corner," he said. "Man, that was a great race car. We hadn't been running very good the last several weeks."
Keselowski, though he visited teammate Logano in Victory Lane, was unhappy with his chances taking a hit because of a problem with his Goodyear tires.
"It was a game of Russian Roulette and it was our turn at the gun," Keselowski said. "It was Dale Jr.'s turn at the gun earlier."
Kevin Harvick, who led 61 laps, pitted from third when he thought his right front tire was flat. Crew chief Rodney Childers told Harvick all the tires were fine, but Harvick fell to 23rd and had to charge to finish 12th.
The victory was Logano's career-best fifth of the season and tied him with Keselowski for the most in the Sprint Cup series this season.
"I'm having a blast this year, and we've got a real shot to win this championship," Logano said. "I feel like we're one of the teams to beat."
Kyle Larson - who is not in the Chase - finished second followed by Kyle Busch, who was third at a track where he has continuously seen his title hopes fall apart.
"I won (Sunday)," said Busch, now second in points, six behind Logano. "I just didn't get champagne and a trophy."
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Winner's average speed: 141.951 mph
Time of race: 2 hours, 49 minutes, 17 seconds
Margin of victory: 0.479 seconds
Caution flags: Eight for 34 laps
Lead changes: 25 among nine drivers
Lap leaders: Harvick 1-43; McMurray 44-46; Gordon 47; Keselowski 48-49; McMurray 50-71; Harvick 72; McMurray 73-74; Harvick 75; Earnhardt Jr. 76-82; Harvick 83; Earnhardt Jr. 84-89; Harvick 90; Earnhardt Jr. 91-122; Logano 123-126; Harvick 127-134; Logano 135-161; Kahne 162-163; Logano 164-166; Harvick 167; Logano 168-192; Harvick 193-197; Logano 198-231; Newman 232-233; Ky.Busch 234; Newman 235-238; Logano 239-267
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Bank of America 500, 7:30 Saturday, Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway
TV/radio: ESPN; 102.5-FM