LOUDON, N.H. — Prior to the Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301, longtime rock ’n roll band Three Dog Night sang its hit “Joy to the World.”
That joy belonged to 19-year-old Joey Logano who became the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race when crew chief Greg Zipadelli’s gamble to keep him on the track paid off as rain brought a premature end to the race 28 laps from completion.
With Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch and their fresh tires closing rapidly on him after pitting on lap 235 and Logano about to run out of gas, the threatening skies opened up and caused a caution and then a red -flag stoppage. When the rain persisted, the race was called.
And it only seemed appropriate that a pair of Connecticut natives, Middletown’s Logano and Berlin’s Zipadelli, benefited from the New England weather.
“I’ll take it any way I can get it,” chuckled Zipadelli, the former crew chief for Tony Stewart. “I’m just going to smile and laugh about it and be happy I got another victory at this awesome racetrack.
“You’ve got to put yourself into position [to win]. We’ve had a couple opportunities this year and didn’t feel it was worth the gamble. Here it was certainly worth it. We didn’t have that much to lose in place of where we were at the time. Everything happened [for us],” added Zipadelli.
Zipadelli had a crew member monitoring the weather and his spotter, Mark Robinson, told him he felt raindrops and could see the rain.
“At that point, we weren’t sure if we were going to go for it or just stay out for a while. But our fuel mileage was good enough that we felt like ‘You know what, this is our only opportunity,’” explained Zipadelli.
“It was awesome,” said Logano, who was given the lucky dog twice, returning him to the lead lap, for being the first car one lap down on a caution. “We overcame a lot. We had a left rear tire cut down right before we made that last long green-flag run. When that happened, I thought we were done.”
He figured they would just try to get the best finish they could.
“And we made the right move at the end. Zippy went for it and I was just lucky enough to be in the seat,” said Logano who won two Camping World East series races at NHMS.
“We got lucky, obviously. The rain came at just the right time. But a win is a win in my book, any way you look at it.”
Logano started 24th.
Gordon finished second and Kurt Busch, who won rain-shortened race at NHMS last year, was third. Rounding out the top 10 were David Reutimann, points leader Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmy Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
“[Logano] put himelf in position. His crew chief made a great call. I can’t complain. We’ve won races [thanks to the rain], especially the race last year at this time,” said Busch.
Busch said his car was stout at the end.
“After the last set of tires, I felt like we were very strong. It took 10 to 15 laps to get going but the long run was definitely in our favor and we were catching Jeff when the rains came,” said Busch.
Busch admitted he thought he was racing Gordon for the lead.
“I had no idea the 20 car was in the lead. I found out when they were throwing the caution. When I drove into [turn] three and I was catching [Gordon] big time, my crew chief [Pat Tryson] radioed in and said the 20 was the leader. It almost startled me. I thought I was racing the 24 [Gordon].”
Gordon also credited Zipadelli for his decision.
“They had nothing to lose and everything to gain and it’s a lot easier to make that call when you’re in that position. It was a gutsy call but, at the same time, it was a no-brainer for him. The only thing that wasn’t going to work out was if they ran out [of gas] under caution because they were going to lose a lot more positions than they would have if they had come in and topped off [with gas].”
Gordon noted that when Logano cut down his left rear tire and came into the pits on lap 182, “as much as it put him behind, it also gave him that opportunity and you’ve got to be smart enough as a crew chief to fill it up with fuel, put four tires on it and play your strategy to stay out [and hope for rain].”
Ryan Newman and Michael Waltrip were in a similar situation to Logano but Waltrip, who was running second, came into the pits for gas on lap 260 and race leader Newman came in three laps later.
The caution came out on lap 267 and they ran six laps under caution.
“It is what it is. Everybody had the same opportunity,” said Gordon crew chief Steve Letarte from Standish. “Congratulations to Zippy. He made the call. Joey drove a great race. The Dupont Chevrolet was pretty good today just not quite good enough.”
Gordon and Busch both said they were happy with their cars and finishes.
Logano said NHMS has a special place in his heart.
“This is where I watched my first Cup race when I was 5 or 6 years old and where I ran my first Cup race [last September],” said the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Zipadelli is no stranger to NHMS.
“I was fortunate enough to be here the first year the track opened . We were the first car on the racetrack with Mike McLaughlin in the Modifieds to do a tire test. We won the Modified race and the Busch North race that year,” said Zipadelli, who was the crew chief for McLaughlin and has been a part of several other wins at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“I love this place. It’s coming home. It’s a beautiful area. I love the [original owners] Bahre family for taking the chance and doing what they did here and create it. It’s just phenomenal,” said Zipadelli who added that when he was racing, he always cherished the opportunity to race at a “beautiful place” like Loudon.