KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Joey Logano spent the final 40-plus laps of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway keeping an eye on Kevin Harvick in his rearview mirror.
Now he can look ahead to the season finale at Phoenix Raceway
Using every bit of the track to hold off Harvick, who has a series-leading nine wins this year, Logano took the checkered flag on a cold, blustery afternoon to secure one of the four championship-eligible spots in the final race. Harvick was followed across the finish line by Hendrick Motorsports' Alex Bowman and Team Penske's Brad Keselowski as postseason contenders swept the top four spots in the first of three races before the finale, a stretch that will whittle the playoff field that currently has eight drivers.
"It's on your mind every lap. You come into this race knowing if you win this thing, you have an amazing advantage," said Logano, a 30-year-old Penske driver who experienced the same perk on his way to the 2018 title. "I can't believe it, especially the way the beginning of the race was going, running back there around 10th and not scoring any stage points."
Harvick, who won the 2014 season title, kept driving his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 car to fellow Ford driver Logano's bumper after the final restart for a caution brought out by Richard Childress Racing's Tyler Reddick, who is not in the playoffs. He simply couldn't make a pass stick as Logano moved all over the track to block him while taking advantage of lapped traffic that kept Harvick from making a clear run.
"We just needed to get off pit road first. It came down to controlling that restart," Harvick said. "All our guys did a great job. We had a fast car. We moved all over the track. We weren't the best behind somebody, but I had a lot of options."
Yet none of them worked when it came to getting around Logano, who won for the third time this season. The other two, at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix, came during the first four races. He had been in the top five seven times since then, including a second-place finish a week earlier on the combination road-and-oval course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"I spent more time looking in the mirror than I did looking in the windshield there," Logano said of his late duel with Harvick. "I thought if I could hold him off the first 15 laps, I would have a chance."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch was fifth — the 2019 Cup Series champion was one of four drivers eliminated from the playoffs after the race at Charlotte — and Hendrick's Chase Elliott, who won the race at Charlotte and the opening stage at Kansas, wound up sixth after dealing with radio problems that at one point caused him to mistakenly pit. Elliott tried using a backup radio and even resorted to hand signs with his team on pit road to convey what he wanted done with the car.
Ryan Blaney, William Byron, playoff driver Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell rounded out the top 10.
Kansas native Clint Bowyer, who is retiring after the season and taking a spot in the Fox Sports broadcast booth, was competitive early but wound up finishing 26th in what could be his final race at his home track, where capacity was reduced to around 10,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harvick's second-place run was good for his own championship hopes. He now has a 41-point cushion over the cut line with two races left before the finale, while JGR's Denny Hamlin is 20 points above it after a mistake caused him to brush the wall and he wound up 15th. Hamlin was going for his third straight win at Kansas and his eighth win overall this year.
Keselowski is eight points above Elliott, the first driver below the cut line.
Bowman is 27 points below, Truex is 31 points behind and Kurt Busch is 73 points back after a blown engine kept him from finishing Sunday's race.
Elliott may have had the most eventful afternoon until the final green-flag run simply because of his radio trouble, which really bit him in the second stage. He had to pit with most of the leaders before Matt Kenseth hit the front-stretch wall to bring out a caution. The remaining cars headed down pit road with 12 laps left in the stage, but Elliott crew chief Alan Gustafson wanted his driver to stay on the track. The message did not get through, and Elliott took a left onto pit road.
He lost a handful of spots, and that left Hamlin and Harvick to race for the stage win, with Hamlin getting his 10th such victory this season.
Meanwhile, JGR's Truex and Chip Ganassi Racing's Kurt Busch spent the day trying to overcome mistakes.
Truex's team failed inspection twice before finally making it through, but that sent his No. 19 Toyota to the back of the field for the start. He quickly worked his way into the top 10, where he spent much of the rest of the afternoon.
Kurt Busch had to serve a penalty for speeding on pit road that hurt him in the opening stage. Then midway through the final stage, he began to notice a problem in his car. His engine finally gave out with a belch of smoke heading into the first turn with 68 laps left, leaving him in a win-or-else situation with only races at Texas Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway in Virginia remaining to secure a title bid in Phoenix.
"Usually there's no warning. Everything is so buttoned up these days in the engine department. And wow, I haven't had an engine problem in years," said Busch, whose team gets its engines from Hendrick.
"No fault of anyone at Hendrick. We were just running hard," Busch added. "We were right in the mix. We were doing the deal. It's a shame for everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing. Having an engine failure in the playoffs, it's like a huge parachute that slows you up. We'll pack that parachute up and go to Texas."