LAS VEGAS — Joey Logano became the first driver to qualify for NASCAR’s championship finale by using fresh tires to chase down Ross Chastain and win Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We’re racing for a championship! Let’s go!” Logano screamed to the crowd. Logano is NASCAR’s 2018 champion and advanced to the title-deciding finale for the fifth time in his career.
Logano used a late pit stop for new tires in a Team Penske attempt to give him a shot at the win. The new Goodyears helped him gain six immediate spots on a restart, but his Ford was still in eighth on the final restart with 16 laps remaining.
Chase Briscoe restarted as the leader ahead of Justin Haley and Chastain, and Chastain used a sweeping three-wide pass on the bottom of the track to take the lead. Chastain had a decent gap on the field, but Logano was charging his way toward the front.
Chastain successfully held off Logano several times with blocks, but Logano ultimately pulled alongside Chastain on the front stretch with three laps remaining to take the lead and earn his third win of the season.
“Joey did a good job of getting through the field there,” said Chastain, who finished second in a Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing.
Kyle Busch, the Las Vegas native who was eliminated from the playoffs in the first round, finished third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Busch spun at his home track, had a tire fall off his Toyota and probably will end his Joe Gibbs Racing career without his crew chief.
His crew chief, Ben Beshore, likely will receive a four-race automatic suspension as punishment for a tire coming off of the car late in the race.
The crowd cheered Busch’s failure, even though Las Vegas is his home track. There are three races remaining, and Busch is leaving JGR after 15 seasons. He has signed with Richard Childress Racing for next season.
Briscoe was fourth in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing and was followed by Denny Hamlin, another playoff driver, in a Toyota from Joe Gibbs Racing. Hamlin had started 31st, the lowest of the playoff drivers, and salvaged his title hopes with the top-five finish.
The race was the first of three in this round of NASCAR’s playoffs. The eight remaining drivers will be whittled down to four for the winner-take-all finale at Phoenix next month.
With the stakes so high, the race was fraught with tension from the start and even included nearly a physical confrontation between Bubba Wallace and reigning NASCAR champion Kyle Larson.
The dustup between Wallace and Larson collected Christopher Bell, who won last week at Charlotte to advance into this round of the playoffs and is now ranked last in the standings following his 34th-place finish.
“We will see if we can go pull another rabbit out of the hat,” Bell said.
Joining Bell below the cut line for elimination was William Byron, who pitted from 11th ahead of the final restart in hopes that fresh tires would give him a better finish, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver wound up finishing only 13th.
Briscoe and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske are sandwiched between Byron and Bell below the cutline. Blaney led for 39 laps but hit the wall with what appeared to be a tire failure. He finished 28th, seven laps down.
Logano is locked into the finale, while Chastain, Hamlin and regular-season champion Chase Elliott are above the cut line. Elliott finished 21st in an uninspiring showing in his Hendrick Motorsports entry.
“I did a really bad job all weekend,” Elliott said. “All around poor effort on my behalf, and when you perform that poorly, you get poor results.”