By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The finish of Saturday’s Powershares QQQ 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway left winner Chase Elliott out of gas on the cool-down lap and runner-up Joey Logano pounding his steering wheel in frustration.
But it was the high-speed chess game seconds before the first and second-place cars crossed the finish line that made all the difference.
Fearing he wouldn’t get help from Kasey Kahne, Elliott’s JR Motorsports teammate, Logano pushed Elliott clear of the pack on the final lap, hoping to make a move to the outside as the cars sped off Turn 4.
But when Logano went high, Elliott moved to his right, and repeated contact between Elliott’s No. 88 Chevrolet and Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford—hard enough to pound a deep dent into Elliott’s right rear quarter panel—broke Logano’s momentum and allowed the No. 88 to cross the stripe .043 seconds ahead of the No. 22.
“He blocked it—I got there a little bit late,” Logano acknowledged. “And then I got hooked on his right rear, and that’s what killed my momentum… That contact just stopped my car.”
So the pole winner for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET) beat the winner of the 2015 Daytona 500 by a small fraction of a second, and Logano was runner-up for the third time during Speedweeks, having run second to Denny Hamlin in last Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited and second to JR Motorsports co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Thursday’s first Can-Am Duel.
Kasey Kahne finished third and XFINITY regular Elliott Sadler fourth in the season opener, as JR Motorsports grabbed three of the top four positions. Austin Dillon ran fifth, followed by Darrell Wallace Jr. and rookie Brandon Jones.
“That was a heck of a battle, man,” said Elliott, who survived early contact during a six-car incident on Lap 13 and rallied to win his first XFINITY race at Daytona and the fifth of his career. “I had such a great car, and we just found ourselves in the right place at the right time.
“Luckily we just barely had enough to get in front of Joey there.”
Elliott duly impressed his car owner, an acknowledged superstar when it comes to restrictor-plate racing.
“Chase obviously did what he had to do there at the end of the race,” Earnhardt said. “I thought that was very gutsy to be able to really put such an aggressive block on the 22… He did what he had to do to keep the guy behind him, and it won him the race.
“I’m proud of Chase. It’s such a cool thing to be a part of his career. He’s going to do some amazing stuff in his career, and it’s awesome to be a little part of it.”
After Ray Black Jr. stalled on the backstretch to cause the fourth caution of the race on Lap 102 of 120, ending a 76-lap green-flag run, Logano led the field to green on Lap 108 with Elliott beside him. While Sadler pushed Elliott to the lead, Logano got hung out of line and drifted back.
Forced to fight back to the front over the final 11 laps, Logano got a strong push in the outside lane from Kahne, who in turn was getting a strong push from Dillon. Logano didn’t get back to the front until the final lap, when he opted to push Elliott and tried to make a last-ditch move.
“It’s three races and three seconds, and I guess it is nothing to hold your head down about, but, gosh, when you see the lead that many times and are that close to winning and don’t pull it off, it’s frustrating,” Logano said.
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – PowerShares QQQ 300
1. (19) Chase Elliott(i), Chevrolet, 120
2. (8) Joey Logano(i), Ford, 120
3. (15) Kasey Kahne(i), Chevrolet, 120
4. (10) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 120
5. (4) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 120
6. (12) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 120
7. (7) Brandon Jones #, Chevrolet, 120
8. (2) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 120
9. (9) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 120
10. (6) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 120
11. (24) Aric Almirola(i), Ford, 120
12. (16) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 120
13. (1) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 120
14. (18) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 120
15. (37) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 119
16. (11) Ryan Reed, Ford, 119
17. (14) John Wes Townley(i), Chevrolet, 119
18. (23) David Starr, Toyota, 119
19. (28) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 119
20. (25) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 119
21. (20) Matt Tifft(i), Toyota, 119
22. (36) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 118
23. (3) Bobby Labonte(i), Toyota, 118
24. (38) BJ McLeod #, Ford, 118
25. (21) Jeb Burton, Ford, 118
26. (29) Anthony Kumpen, Chevrolet, 118
27. (13) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 117
28. (35) Chris Cockrum, Chevrolet, 117
29. (30) Scott Lagasse Jr, Chevrolet, 117
30. (33) Eric McClure, Chevrolet, 117
31. (5) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 115
32. (39) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 114
33. (32) Ray Black Jr #, Chevrolet, 114
34. (17) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 111
35. (22) Benny Gordon, Toyota, Transmission, 103
36. (26) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 59
37. (40) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Transmission, 50
38. (34) Martin Roy, Chevrolet, Accident, 22
39. (27) Bobby Gerhart, Chevrolet, Accident, 6
40. (31) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, Accident, 5
Image: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images