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BROOKLYN, Mich. — One thing stood ahead of Joey Logano and his first win of the season: a driver who was once a mentor to him.
One thing stood between Mark Martin and his first win of the season: a lack of necessary fuel.
Logano edged out the racing veteran who reached out to the 23-year-old driver during his teenage years and won the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Logano earned his first win of the year after Martin had been advised by his team in the later stages of the 200-lap race that he was running low on fuel. Drastically low.
Leading with less than three laps left in the race, Martin slowed as he went into Turn 3 and his car fell back before he made it to pit road to refuel, ending his chance to win.
PHOTO GALLERY: NASCAR's Pure Michigan 400
“Could I pass him?” Logano asked, rhetorically. “I don’t know. I was able to catch him a little bit. I really felt he was going to run out of gas when [crew chief] Todd [Gordon] told me he was two to three laps short. Originally he told me he was seven laps short, when the 55 came out of the pits. So I knew that in the back of my head.”
While Logano plotted to keep pace and considered the possibility of overtaking Martin, Martin asked for a last caution in the race’s final laps, in hopes of a last chance for fuel, and concentrated on maintaining his lead.
“We just needed one more yellow and we could have done it,” Martin said. “I saved a lot of gas and just stayed ahead of Joey, but if he would have slowed down, I could have maybe saved enough. I had to go that fast. I had more speed in the car but was just trying to stay in the lead."
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Logano’s win came his first year of driving with Detroit-based Penske Racing. After an up-and-down first 19 races in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil car, Logano entered Sunday’s race with top-ten finishes in his four of his six previous races.
“We should decide to get more wins,” Logano quipped, grinning. “We need to try to figure out how aggressive we need to be. Right now, as long as we’re consistent, knocking off top 10s like this team has been doing, and if we get another win, it’s going to help us get in the Chase.”
In a race that had nine cautions, including three in the first 17 laps, and had several lead changes as drivers cycled through pit stops about one-quarter of the way through the race, Kurt Busch led for 43 of the first 106 laps before defending Pure Michigan 400 champion Greg Biffle took over on the 109th lap.
One of 13 drivers to hold the lead through the course of the 200-lap race, Martin took the lead on the 174th lap. On the final restart, Logano made his first attempt at regaining a lead he held twice before in the race. Logano slipped to the inside of the track and attempted to nudge past Martin and Kevin Harvick, who finished second ahead of Busch.
“We just mistimed that last restart there [on the 178th lap],” Harvick said. “I had a great run on the 55, and I was going to beat him to the line by too much and wound up having to drag the brakes. From there, it was going to be sketchy if we were going to keep the 22 back there.”
With the needle on his gas tank dropping, Martin forged ahead with his eye on Victory Lane. He looked too far ahead. Martin asked race officials for a caution for debris on the track with less than 10 laps left, and no caution came. He took the risk.
“We only needed one more yellow flag, and you usually get them in NASCAR racing,” said Martin, who finished 27th. “We were hoping for that yellow.”
It never came. Logano drove by the driver who once deemed him as a future stock-car racing great.
“It’s kind of ironic,” Logano said. “At Pocono [in 2012] I went for the win, racing against my childhood hero, who I can honestly say I wouldn’t be sitting here today without him. I would have never won racing someone else.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.