HAMPTON, Ga. – Simply put, Joey Logano has a knack for coming through in the last moment at superspeedway races.
Moments like his 2018 Clash victory at Daytona showcased a mature, methodical Middletown, Connecticut native at the ripe old age of 27.
On Sunday, Logano put a complete race effort and performance together. However, the box score, demonstrating the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion’s dominance at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway, tells only a part of the picture.
Starting from the pole, Logano had a perfect Stage 1 victory, leading all 60 laps. Although the 31-time Cup race winner looked like the man to beat, he had some worthy contenders such as Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin.
By far, Logano’s No. 22 Autotrader Ford Mustang was the class of the field. Still, by Stage 2, Austin Cindric, a fellow Team Penske driver, scooted past Logano for a sneaky victory, perhaps inspiring the latter’s move in the closing moments of Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400.
From Laps 165 to 259, Logano dealt with the likes of Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ross Chastain, and Keselowski. Each driver made a compelling case to tally their first victory of the year.
Then again, Logano was not going to be denied at a track that has a strong sense of sentimentality. After all, this was where he cut his teeth as a thriving, young stock car prospect.
Once Keselowski led the white flag lap, Logano, like Bob Ross says on his famed PBS show, had to make a decision.
Building a full head of steam off Turn 2, Logano drove to the outside of Keselowski, drawing alongside his former teammate. Thanks to a hardy bump draft assist from Tyler Reddick, Logano pulled ahead of the pack, netting his first win of 2023.
Unlike last year, Logano earned his first victory of the year in just five races, seven races sooner than his 2022 championship season. Moreover, Logano tallied his first win with a sponsor other than Shell Pennzoil.
Considering Logano’s apparent comfort as the leading driver at superspeedways, his perspective on this comfort level at these tracks is a bit of a surprise.
“I don’t think anyone feels comfortable when you line up for a superspeedway ’cause honestly, I mean, I feel like half the races I finish is what it feels like,” Logano said. “When you’re strapped in, kind of feel like you got a 50/50 chance of seeing the checkered flag. It’s not the most comforting feeling at all.”
All things considered, Logano can leave Atlanta with a comfortable feeling as the newest Cup race winner of 2023.
On the other hand, Keselowski, in the midst of a near two-year winless drought, took solace in his runner-up result.
“We were right there,” Keselowski said in a team press release. “I’m glad a Ford won and it was a heck of a battle. I’m proud of my team and the effort, just not much we could do there at the end.
“It’s night and day from where we were a year ago, 100 percent. You just keep running like this with good finishes and the wins will come.”
Christopher Bell rounded out the podium finishers at the highest non-Ford driver. Upon consideration, Bell seems to be righting his ship after a roller coaster like start to the year.
“Got a good finish out of it and I’m happy with that,” Bell said. “I don’t know, I had the position the 22 (Joey Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top. To come so close is disappointing, but very happy with a third place result. We’ll go onto the next one.”
The next race is at Circuit of the Americas with Sunday’s EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). While the field considers ways to win at the 3.426-mile, 20-turn FIA Grade 1 road course, Logano understands the importance of his Atlanta win in the grand scheme of things.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s great to get a win for Ford early in the season, get in the Playoffs,” Logano said. “That’s huge. You can go race aggressively. We know what tracks we need to maximize. This is definitely one of them. We were able to do that.”
Stage 1 Top 10 Finishers
Stage 2 Top 10 Finishers
Ambetter Health 400 Top 10 Finishers at Atlanta
Logano, Keselowski, Bell, LaJoie, Reddick/Hamlin-Blaney-E. Jones-Gibbs-Busch
Stephen Conley contributed to this recap directly on-site from Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia.