Avondale, AZ – Joey Logano won Saturday's Great Clips 200 with a dominating performance, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved closer to his second straight Nationwide Series championship with a third-place finish at Phoenix International Raceway.
Stenhouse and Elliott Sadler entered this race in a points tie, but Sadler was involved in a multi-car crash in the closing laps, which forced a green-white- checkered finish. Brian Vickers, who made his Nationwide debut with Joe Gibbs Racing, was battling his new teammate, Logano, for the lead just before the yellow flag waved for the final time. Logano held Vickers off on the last restart and beat him to the finish line by 0.668 seconds.
Logano, who led 168 of 204 laps, scored his Nationwide-leading ninth win of the season and the 18th of his career. He also won his series-high sixth pole this year earlier in the day. Logano, a Sprint Cup Series regular, has competed in 21 Nationwide races this season.
"It was another great day and another great car that (crew chief) Adam Stevens prepared for me to go out there and try to win this thing," Logano said. "To be able to lock up most poles and most wins of the year today was cool. That's definitely one of the goals that we really wanted to achieve throughout this year. It's even cooler running on a limited (Nationwide) schedule."
Sadler pitted twice for repairs during the final caution and managed to finish the race one lap down in 22nd. He is 20 points behind Stenhouse entering next Saturday's season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Stenhouse will clinch the championship if he finishes 16th or better at Homestead, regardless of Sadler's performance there.
"That makes us feel good, but we've given up 20 points in one race, so it's not over till it's over," Stenhouse said. "We've still got some work to do, but it feels pretty good."
Sadler's day at Phoenix started on a very tough note when he made contact with the wall and damaged his No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet during his second lap in qualifying. His first lap was good enough to qualify him in 16th, but he had to go to a backup car and start from the rear of the field.
Sadler had been running among the top-10 late in the race until his crash on lap 199. He bumped into the left rear of Cole Whitt, as both drivers spun around and backed it into the wall. Brendan Gaughan, who drove the No. 33 car for RCR, slammed into the front of Sadler and tore the nose off his car.
"I put my team in a hole in qualifying, and then we tried to work on this car as much as we could, but I just got a little loose there getting under the 88 (Whitt)," Sadler said. "It's 100 percent my fault. I should have done a better job for these guys. I just apologized for putting them into this position going to Homestead. We'll go down there and fight, but I definitely dug ourselves a hole."
Stenhouse will attempt to become the sixth different driver to win back-to- back titles in NASCAR's second-tier series. Martin Truex Jr. was the last driver who accomplished the feat, doing so from 2004-05. Sam Ard (1983-84), Larry Pearson (1986-87), Randy LaJoie (1996-97) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1998-99) also won consecutive championships in the series.
Stenhouse's points lead of 20 is not as comfortable as the one he had going to Homestead one year ago. He held a 41-point advantage over Sadler with one race to go.
"It's not quite as good as it was last year, but we'll definitely take it," Stenhouse said. "But we've still got to keep doing what we're doing."
When the series competed at Phoenix in Nov. 2011, Sadler trailed Stenhouse by 17 points, but Sadler was caught up in a multi-car wreck late in the race, which virtually ended his chances of winning the title. Sadler won at this flat one-mile racetrack in March. It was his first Nationwide win since Oct. 1998.
The lap prior to the crash involving Sadler, Whitt and Gaughan, Vickers caught Logano for the lead and held it briefly. Logano pulled a crossover move to get back under Vickers and reclaim the top spot for good.
"Brian did an awesome job, and we had a heck of a race," Logano said.
Earlier this week, Vickers signed a contract with JGR to drive in Nationwide full time in 2013. Logano is leaving Joe Gibbs' team and heading to Penske Racing after this season concludes.
Kyle Busch finished fourth, while Kasey Kahne took the fifth spot. Rookie Austin Dillon, Michael Annett, Brian Scott, who won the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday at Phoenix, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick completed the top-10.
Stenhouse, Sadler and Dillon are the only drivers who remain in contention for the Nationwide championship. Dillon trails by 25 points.