Matt Kenseth Assumes Points Lead at Pocono

A seventh-place finish Sunday by Matt Kenseth at the Pocono 400 vaulted him into the points lead, as both he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. jumped ahead of Greg Biffle in the Sprint Cup Series standings (photo courtesy: Streeter Lecka/GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Joey Logano may have gotten the weight of the NASCAR world off his shoulders with a convincing and exciting victory at Pocono fourth in Race 14 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Logano earned his second victory in his 125th Sprint Cup Series start on Sunday. Perhaps this is the turning point for a driver nicknamed "Sliced Bread," a driver tagged for stardom and that nickname at age 15 by the man he beat, Mark Martin.

"I hope it shuts them all up is what I hope," Logano said. "I tell you what, it just means a lot for this whole team. [Crew chief] Jason Ratcliff, to get his first win for him -- man, it means so much.

"You don't understand. Man, it's just cool."

Logano had been the class of the field for much of the race, really for much of the time since teams unloaded here for testing on Wednesday. He led a race-high 48 of 160 laps, also his new personal best, but it was what he and Ratcliff did late in the race that sealed Logano's second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

With 34 laps to go, Ratcliff made the call to get two tires and fuel and to try to make it last. The longest fuel run in the race to that point had been 32 laps, but many other teams decided to take the same gamble. Two late cautions took fuel-mileage out of the equation; it was up to Logano to win the race.

Up front for the final restart with seven laps to go, Logano was passed by Martin and it looked like the race was lost. But Logano patiently waited for his chance, and with four laps to go, Martin gave it to him. The veteran bobbled going into Turn 3 and Logano got close enough down the long straightaway to take advantage in Turn 1, moving Martin out of the way to cruise to victory.

"You would call that a bump-and-run, yeah," Martin said. "It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It's not how I would have done it. Certainly, had I had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return."

There may have been a different winner -- and an even more popular one -- but Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in for fuel with 25 laps to go to top off. Earnhardt had been racing near the lead most of the day and led three times for 36 laps. Pitting proved to be the wrong decision, but Earnhardt took it in stride and made sure to back up his crew chief, Steve Letarte.

"Well, we just didn't want to run out of gas," Earnhardt said. "I didn't know the caution flags were going to be so long. And they were long enough to help them guys make it on fuel.

"We're not taking those kinds of chances just yet."

Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth took over the points lead with a seventh-place finish with Earnhardt moving up to second, 10 points back. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Kenseth, who now leads Earnhardt by 10 points in the standings, focused his comments on disappointment that he didn’t win the race, something he thought he had the car to do it with.

“I couldn’t go on restarts,” Kenseth said. “I thought I was getting a good roll at them, but they would just kind of drive by me. That’s frustrating. We’ll keep working on it, but I’m happy we got a decent finish and took over the points lead.”

Logano moved up to 15th in the standings, but with the victory is much closer to Chase contention than he was before the race. As of now, he would be the first driver out, but a few more solid runs and another victory and that could change. And that may mean he really doesn't have to worry about his future in this, a contract year.

Only 100 points separates first and 11th in the standings and only 30 points are the difference between first and fifth place. Kyle Busch’s engine failure and 30th-place finish in Sunday’s race was more damaging, as it knocked him out of the top-10 in points heading into next week’s race in Michigan. He was ninth coming into the weekend. He is now 12th, six points out of 10th place.

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Michigan on Sunday, June 10 (1:00 p.m. ET, TNT, MRN Radio) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

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