Meanwhile, on NASCAR’s undercard, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson are racing for the Sprint Cup championship.
The season finale is shaping up to be a knockdown, drag-out, heavyweight fight and it might not have anything to do with the title bout. Keselowski goes into the race Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 20-point lead over the five-time champion, and needs only to finish 15th or better to win his first Cup title.
He took a big step Friday by qualifying third in his Penske Racing Dodge. Johnson was 10th in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“I totally expected him to out-qualify us, to be quite honest,” Keselowski said. “I was going to be fine with that. At least we were prepared for the worst and that’s not what happened, so I guess we’re OK.”
The pole went to Logano, who is driving his final race for Joe Gibbs Racing. He turned a lap of 176.056 mph in the No. 20 Toyota he’s driven for the last four years, beating Marcos Ambrose, who turned a lap of 175.342 in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
Logano turns his car over next week to Matt Kenseth, and Logano moves to Penske Racing, where he’ll be a teammate to Keselowski on one of the youngest lineups in the Cup garage. But on Sunday, he’ll be trying to close his JGR tenure with a win and won’t be trying to help his future teammate.
“Goal number one is to win the race, no matter what,” Logano said. “No matter where we go, no matter who else is on the race track, no matter what is going on, it’s all about winning. That stuff doesn’t matter. Obviously, those guys are racing for a championship and I don’t want to be the guy that gets in the middle of that, but I’m out there to win.”
Logano knows all too well about getting in the middle of something — it happened to him last weekend at Phoenix when Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer as retaliation for contact earlier in the race. The accident collected Logano and Aric Almirola as well, and Keselowski had to dodge his way around it to avoid being collected in the carnage.
It also triggered a garage-area melee between the crews for Bowyer and Gordon, and NASCAR on Monday fined Gordon $100,000 and docked him 25 points in the standings.
Gordon is unapologetic for wrecking Bowyer, explaining Friday their issues date back to Martinsville in April when Bowyer took out both Gordon and Johnson as they raced each other for the lead to give Hendrick Motorsports its 200th victory. But Gordon did admit he felt bad that Logano was involved, and that a phone call between the two during the week did not go well.
“You know, I’m not one that calls right away. I like things to kind of settle down,” Gordon said. “I’d really rather do face-to-face. But he called me and so I called him back, and I can’t say it went exactly very well. I reached out to him again to try to get together with him here at the track, and I have not been able to speak with him.”
Logano agreed the call did not go well.
“I reached out for an apology and I didn’t get one, and I got hung up on,” Logano said. “But he did text me, and I’m sure we’ll meet up at some point. We’re going to be able to go out and figure it out. We’re big boys.”
It’s not clear where things stand with Bowyer, who didn’t want to discuss the Phoenix incident on Friday. He spoke to reporters on Sunday after meeting with NASCAR officials, but wasn’t in the mood to rehash it following his qualifying lap at Homestead.
“I don’t want to talk about it. I really don’t,” he said as he walked from pit road to his team hauler.
Asked how long it would take for him to get past his anger, Bowyer said he didn’t know, “It’ll be a while.” And when told he’s not one to usually hold a grudge, he replied, “I’m usually not a guy that usually causes any trouble, either.”
So there will lots of attention on the subplots Sunday as Keselowski and Johnson race for the title.
Johnson had a seven-point lead over Keselowski headed into Phoenix, but was off all weekend and a blown tire caused him to crash late in the race. Now he’s starting behind Keselowski on Sunday, but he’s not worried.
“I’ll find a way to make it good for me if I can,” Johnson said. “I’d love to have him right there by me when we start the race and put the pressure on him.”
Instead, there will be seven cars between them.
Carl Edwards, last year’s runner-up to Tony Stewart, qualified fourth in a Ford and was followed by Almirola — who gave RPM both of its cars in the top five.
Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth and seventh, Kyle Busch was eighth and Mark Martin was ninth to give Toyota five cars in the top nine and all three Michael Waltrip Racing entries in the top nine.
Johnson rounded out the top 10.