Joey Logano capitalized on Denny Hamlin making contact with teammate Brad Keselowski on the final lap to win The Clash.
With 11 laps to go, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were in control and the rest of the field struggled to form a strong outside line. The field was almost single-file with five to go.
With four to go, however, Keselowski, Logano and Kevin Harvick made their way up the outside. Kyle Busch, who was fourth in the Gibbs line, succeeded in splitting Harvick from the Penske duo but found himself split from the Gibbs breakaway.
Working together the next two laps, Keselowski and Logano split Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez from Hamlin. He was all by himself and set up for the Penske teammates to draft right by him.
Going into Turn 1 on the final lap, Keselowski, charging with a full head of steam, dove under Hamlin for the position. Hamlin came down to block, but came across the nose, got loose and turned himself sideways.
Hamlin, who finished 13th, was asked afterward what he’d do differently if given the chance.
“There’s really not much I can do differently at the end. Perhaps staying in the middle lane there through one and two and trying to side draft,” Hamlin said. “He (Brad Keselowski) had help from the 22 (Joey Logano). I was in a bad spot there. He was just coming so much faster than what I was. There’s not much that I could have done to defend. We lined up so well as Toyota teammates throughout the race that once those guys started breaking that up and leap frogging, he (Keselowski) had commitment from the 22 and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and when they were able to back up there that really put us at a speed differential.”
Logano drove to the high-side of Hamlin and Keselowski and then drove on to score the victory.
“It’s cool to win the Clash,” Logano said in victory lane. “We came close last year and it’s really neat to be in Victory Lane and a good start to our day.
“The Toyotas are so selfless, I guess is the way to look at it. They are able to work together and think of one car of winning, and they’re really good at that. We had to think the same way as Ford and with Stewart-Haas and the Penske cars and we were able to get a good enough run to work together enough to break them up and make the passes and then there at the end was kind of a mess,” he said on what he saw at the end. “Everything was going really fast. Everything was going on and I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Coming to the line behind him, Busch and Alex Bowman made contact exiting Turn 4. Busch edged him out to the line to finish runner-up.
After the race, Busch and Bowman had a heated conversation on pit road.
“When the 22 (Joey Logano) got so far out in front that he was a lone duck…I feel like if we both could have worked together then we could have tracked them back down and then the three of us could have gone for the win instead of just automatically giving it to the 22,” Busch said on what he said to Bowman. “Just trying to see what his mindset was with it all and figure out what got him to that decision. Overall, good day and I need to eliminate some mistakes here for myself on this M&M’s team – the guys did a great job, the guys executed really well. I have a really fast car so I can’t say enough about my guys at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota – everybody’s done a really good job and we have some good stuff. It’s cool to be able to have the opportunity to race for a win like that, but it kind of snuck away from us there at the end. All in all, real pumped for the opportunity to qualify later and we’ll see where we stack up and get after it next week.”
“It was frustrating,” Bowman said. “We kind of struggled all day, a little bit. We couldn’t get the track position we needed. To come home third is solid, and not bad by any means. We will learn from it and hopefully give Greg (Ives, crew chief) and Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) some information for the Daytona 500. It is a day race. I am just happy to be a part of the Clash.
“It wasn’t a bad day by any means. It was all we could hope for. To come home third is really gold. Just thankful for the opportunity to drive this thing. Had a lot of fast Chevrolet’s out there for Hendrick these 12 races. Just very thankful for the opportunity.”
Danica Patrick came from 10th on the final lap to fourth.
Harvick rounded out the top-five.
On the 17th circuit of the race, Jimmie Johnson’s car broke loose exiting Turn 4, turned down and clipped the right-rear corner of Kurt Busch’s car, sending him head-on into the outside wall.
On lap 50, Johnson’s car broke loose again exiting Turn 4. This time there wasn’t a car below him as he slid down the track and collected the wall head-on.
“It’s bizarre because it drove really good everywhere else, then off of (Turn) 4 the first time I had a handling problem was when it broke free and I got into the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) and then after that, it was really loose. After that caution and the last long stretch before I crashed again, just off of Turn 4, the Sun certainly sits on that edge of the track a little bit harder than anywhere else,” Johnson said of the two wrecks in which he was involved. “We will take some notes and learn from those mistakes and apply that to the (Daytona) 500 car.”
With 17 laps to go, Martin Truex Jr. was drafting with Harvick going into Turn 3 when he came across the nose of Kyle Larson and got turned. He spun out a few times before making contact with the wall. This brought out the race’s fourth caution and set up the 11-lap run to the finish.
Truex clipped Chris Buescher’s car when Buescher drove to the high side to avoid him.
The race lasted an hour, 18 minutes and 13 seconds at an average speed of 143.831 mph. There were six lead changes among four different drivers and four cautions for 16 laps.