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By MONTE DUTTON
Joey Logano, who won the Sprint Cup Series' Rookie of the Year award in 2009, turned some heads at Infineon Raceway by winning the pole.
The 21-year-old had won a pole before, at Bristol in 2010, but few expected him to record the fastest time at a road course. Race day wasn't bad, either, as Logano finished a creditable sixth in his No. 20 Home Depot Toyota. It was easily his best-ever finish at the series' two road courses, Infineon and Watkins Glen.
The Sonoma, Calif., layout provided a welcome and unexpected lift in Logano's fortunes. The Middletown, Conn., native remains only 23rd in the points standings after finishing 20th in 2009 and 16th in 2010. The Infineon finish was only his third top-10 of the season to date.
"This is the last place I figured we'd ever get a pole," said Logano after averaging more than 93 mph around the 11-turn, 1.99-mile course.
After the sixth-place finish, he added, "I can't tell you how badly I needed something like this. It's definitely going to help our season. I think it's definitely going to get us some momentum."
Logano was NASCAR's youngest top rookie ever, and he also became the youngest driver ever to win a Cup race on June 28, 2009, when he won a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
At Sonoma, Robby Gordon and Logano clashed during the race.
"That's no big deal to me," said Logano, referring to Gordon. "I don't know. He was running me all over the race track. He knocked my fender in for no reason. We were a lot, lot faster than him. I just had enough. I wasn't going to get pushed around. He pushed me around before, and I was sick of it.
"I think that's a small story. That's not a big deal. We finished sixth. I'm pretty happy about that."
What would be a big story would be a Logano comeback, now that he has some momentum. To make the Chase, he would have to win at least one race and somehow get himself into the top 20 in points.
Thanks to changes in the Chase format implemented this year, he's still got a shot, albeit a small one.
Monte Dutton covers motorsports for The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette. E-mail Monte at firstname.lastname@example.org.