By Dustin Albino

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Joey Logano was trying to do something no driver has done since Dale Jarrett did in 2000: win the Daytona 500 from the pole position. 

The pole award on Wednesday evening was the first for Team Penske in the “Great American Race.” The stars were aligning. 

Logano swapped the lead with Michael McDowell, his Ford brethren who also sat on the front row, early in Monday‘s race. He remained a factor throughout the opening stage until he pitted with his Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric, as well as Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Daniel Hemric. The Nos. 12 and 31 cars lost touch with the pack, needing to stop longer in their pit box for fuel. By having less strength in numbers, Logano managed to get back to 11th by the end of the stage. 

During the second stage, Logano led 21 laps but faded to 21st in the running order. Throughout the third stage, the No. 22 car juked its way through the field and took the lead on lap 163. He was comfortable with his position as Blaney was in close pursuit. 

“I thought, ‘Man, if I could pick one, that‘s the one I want,”” Logano said of Blaney behind him. “I‘m in a great position here. Had to find the right opportunity to slip [Ross Chastain] again because [Keselowski] wasn‘t working with us. I felt if I could keep [Blaney] with me, I‘m going to be in a decent spot.”

The Ford pitted on lap 181, handing the lead to Chastain before he pitted. While exiting the pits, the No. 22 car led the Ford brigade and passed everyone but Chastain, as the No. 1 car threw a block on Logano getting up to speed. 

Over the next 10 laps, the action was frantic. Trackhouse Racing teammates Chastain and Daniel Suarez traded the lead. But with nine laps to go, Alex Bowman got a shove from behind, which turned William Byron into Keselowski, who then clipped Logano. In total, 23 cars were involved in the “Big One.”

“The pushes are stupid the whole time,” Logano said of the melee. “Everybody gets more and more intense, you know it‘s going to happen. Anyone can see it happening, you know it‘s going to happen — it happens every year. With 10 to go, there‘s going to be a caution you just hope you‘re not in it. You can‘t ride around, you can‘t just sit there and not race because you will be too far back and won‘t win that way.”

Logano led 45 laps, the most he’s paced the field during a Daytona 500. His previous best was 31 in 2015, when he won the Daytona 500. 

“The car was so fast — the car was the fastest car on the track,” Logano said. “I could lead a line whenever we weren‘t saving fuel, she was a rocketship. It‘s how this game works, the wreck always starts at the front, you‘re in front of it and second place isn‘t far enough ahead.”

The Cup Series heads to another drafting racetrack, Atlanta, next weekend, which is the site of the No. 22 team’s last victory.

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