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What a storyline: Joey Logano outfoxes mentor Mark Martin to win the Pocono 400, and he calls the victory 'surreal'

What a storyline: Joey Logano outfoxes mentor Mark Martin to win the Pocono 400, and he calls the victory 'surreal'

Joey Logano: A hard-fought victory over Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   POCONO, Pa.
   Joey Logano, driving to save his ride and probably his sponsor too, pushed past mentor Mark Martin with four laps Sunday to go win a rather confusing and tense Pocono 400.
   It was a rather neat ending, historically, with Logano, who had been 'discovered' by Martin when just an unknown kid running Florida dirt more than 10 years ago, outfoxing the legendary Martin, a NASCAR tour stalwart for 30 years.
   "I always knew, from the time I saw him driving at age 11, that he could be a Cup champion," Martin said.

    The new asphalt here, surprisingly, didn't appear to play a significant role in how the drivers raced the track.
    In fact the pavement drew rave reviews.
   After four days of practice, much more than usual at a Sprint Cup event, drivers were aggressive right out of the box, able to run two abreast just about anywhere around the 2.5-mile track. "A huge shout-out to Pocono Speedway and the paving company," Martin said. "I don't think it would be possible to have a first-race event this good ever. I only hope and pray Michigan (also just repaved, and this week's next tour stop) races as well as this did.  This was absolutely the best I can ever remember. A shout-out to Goodyear as well."
    But what turned things upside down were a surprising number of pit road speeding penalties, some 20 for the three-hour race. And Jimmie Johnson was one of them caught, twice in fact, early.
   That put Johnson in catch-up mode the rest of the days. He rallied to fourth at the end, but wasn't really a factor.
    Martin said his crew chief warned him "there was a discrepancy in that last (timing) segment (on pit road). So I was very careful. I'm always very careful on pit road, because it's easier for me to make up a three-second deficit (with a slower stop) than a 30-second deficit (for a speeding penalty)."
   NASCAR's Robin Pemberton said the pit road had 11 segments this year rather than 10 as last year, and he said the final segment at the far end of pit road was shorter than usual. That information, he said, was available to all teams, if they'd cared to ask. And Pemberton said the issue was more "a team issue" than a track or NASCAR issue.

   A beautiful day in the Poconos....especially for Joey Logano (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Logano had the lead for the final restart. But Martin, on the outside, jumped out to the lead. Logano stalked him for several laps, finally making his winning move with four laps – 10 miles – to go.
   "I knew my car was better than his, and  clean air means so much," Logano said. "I'd been able to out-brake guys into turn one all day and make some passes there all day.
    "I didn't want to run into Mark....but I had a run with speed."
   About all the speculation that Logano might not be in this car again next year, because he hadn't won in 104 races, Logano said curtly  "I hope it shuts them all up."

   The win comes at what looks like a critical point in Logano's still-young career. He's been running the Cup tour nearly four years now, though he just turned 22, and he got his first tour win in the summer of 2009, in a rain-marred race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his first year as Tony Stewart's replacement at Joe Gibbs'. But Logano hasn't quite lived up to the rep that he brought in here, and his current contract is up at the end of this season.
   Will Gibbs re-sign Logano?
    "No, I haven't been informed on where I stand for next year yet, so it's all up in the air," Logano conceded.  
    "Obviously winning a race means a lot ,and it helps that out a ton.  
     "Right now my future is not set with anybody.  
     "To get this win means a lot.  It's at a perfect time...
    "My hope is to obviously stay with what I've got...But you never know. Those things go back and forth and switch around a lot.
     "All I can do is stay focused on my job. Whatever happens from there happens.
    "The puzzle pieces will fall together eventually."

    Facing Martin for the win must be a bit nerve-wracking.  
    "Mark was getting better, every restart he was getting a little better, and he got me the last one," Logano said. "I said 'I'm giving one away here.'
     "When he got in front of me, I made a couple mistakes, and he was driving away. Then he made a mistake off turn three, and I was able to have a big run coming to him there.  
    "I went into turn one and tried to outbrake him. He was protecting the bottom, I was trying to stick my nose in there, and we got really close. I'm not even sure if we touched each other or not, but I know I got him air-loose at least and able to slide up underneath him and clear him by the time he got off one.
     "Making sure I cleared him was a very important moment.  And Tony is there ready to pounce.  
    "We've been racing against each other here for the last three or four years now, and I thought it was pretty amazing just to line up next to him if we were running 15th.  He's a great racer, and he makes very minimal mistakes.
     "But I couldn't have picked someone cooler to line up against on a late restart like that.


   Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the pack, in one of his best yet opportunities to snap that winless streak (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Martin, at 53, has been strong all season, his first with Toyota team owner Michael Waltrip, after several years with Chevrolet's Rick Hendrick. Martin has had several shots to win, including one just last weekend at Dover.
    "I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world, to have a car that can contend like that," Martin said after this 400.
    "It's just so incredible to have a ride like this.  I am very, very proud of my race team for putting me in something that would give me a shot. I'm having fun with it. Maybe it next week it will be us with the trophy.
   "I really stuck my neck out to get that lead. I was willing to risk it all to get that lead. And once we got out there, Joey was just a little stronger. I had a little push off turn three and Joey was able to get by me."
   Logano's move?
    "I'd call it a bump and run," Martin said with a laugh. "It's not how I would have done it; and if I'd have a faster car, I'd have returned it.
   "But that type of racing is expected in this series.
   "He certainly didn't get this one handed to him.
   "Maybe things will start to turn (for Logano); he's been in kind of a stall in his career."


     Joey Logano at the finish line, well ahead of Mark Martin (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

      Stewart said he was warned by crew chief Steve Addington to be careful with his speed leaving pit road.
   "A lot of guys got busted in the same spot, that last segment, made you think something was going on," Stewart said.


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