Long: Phoenix race proves tantalizing for title event

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Shortly after he held off Kevin Harvick for an overtime win, was showered in drinks by his team in victory lane and cheered by fans standing a few feet away, Joey Logano still remained as fast as his final restart.

So when asked if he could have rebounded from a pit road penalty and a broken jack that slowed another stop without the lower downforce package used Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, Logano’s answer came before the question could be fully asked.

“No way,” he told NBC Sports. “No way. Not in a million years. I could have never passed that many cars.”

Logano passed 82 cars on the way to his second Cup win of the season. Thirteen drivers — more than a third of the field — passed more cars than Logano on Sunday.

The numbers were not inflated by the field pitting under green. This was passing on the track, what the sport sought after many of last year’s races on shorter tracks failed to excite fans. Last year, no driver passed more than 76 cars in either Phoenix race with a higher downforce package. Sunday, 16 cars topped that number.

The lower downforce setup used Sunday, which included a spoiler 5.25 inches shorter than last year’s, combined with a tire that wore and the use of the traction compound builds anticipation for the championship race in November at this track.

“I feel like it was a different Phoenix race than what we’ve seen the past couple of years,” winning crew chief Paul Wolfe told NBC Sports. “The tire Goodyear brought had a lot of grip but new tires meant a lot, so it kind of changed the whole race strategy.”

Logano, fourth-place finisher Kyle Larson and seventh-place finisher Chase Elliott all came back from issues on pit road or ill-handling cars to score top-10 results.

“It seemed like the cars that had some issues … and would go to the back could drive back to the front a lot easier,”  Larson told NBC Sports. “The package was a lot better than last year’s short track stuff.”

Kyle Busch, not afraid to criticize a race package, was complimentary of the racing after his third-place finish.

“You could follow a helluva lot closer than you could before,” Busch told NBC Sports. “You could actually get into the corner behind a guy and roll up to his left rear and try to make him a little bit loose and try to make some moves on a guy.

“I didn’t get hindered by following people into the corners as near as bad as the other (package).”

There were a number of times when cars at the front ran close together and even had contact, something that was not as frequent last year at Phoenix. That led to more passing.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer, who finished fifth, and Aric Almirola, who placed eight, each passed a race-high 103 cars Sunday.

“I hope the downforce package sold well to the fans,” Bowyer told NBC Sports. “It certainly was a lot more of a handful and a lot harder to drive than it was last year.”

Drives like that because it allows talent to play a bigger role.

Even with the movement throughout the race, Logano admitted he wasn’t thinking about a victory when the jack broke during his final pit stop and Logano went from first to 18th on Lap 268 of the 316-lap race.

“Honestly, did I think a win was in the books? No,” he said. “I’m 18th, if I can get a top five that’s going to be pretty good. I got a lot of cars to pass in a short amount of time. Good restarts. Cautions at the right time and more cars pitted.”

After an overtime restart, Logano was celebrating and looking ahead to November.