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Auto Racing

Logano rises above field at Pocono

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:21 PM

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LONG POND, Pa. -

Joey Logano stood on top of the No. 20 high-fiving everyone he could reach in Victory Lane. Beverages were sprayed, fists were pumped and throaty shouts of celebration could be heard well down the 21/2-mile track.

It's what winning a Sprint Cup race is all about.

It's what Logano has waited years to truly experience. Neither rain nor Mark Martin would deny him this feeling.

Logano gave a crafty Martin a well-timed nudge out of the way in the closing laps Sunday at Pocono Raceway to clinch his first victory since 2009 and become the first Sprint Cup driver this season to win from the pole.

The one-time prodigy and the grizzled veteran pushing hard down the stretch was a duel to remember at Pocono.

"I didn't stop screaming until I got to Victory Lane," Logano said. "You work so hard to do this."

This one felt like the first time for Logano after his only other career win in 125 Sprint Cup starts was a rain-shortened victory at New Hampshire. Wins count the same in the record book. But they sure do feel different.

"When you cross the line and you've won the race, to me, it's an amazing feeling," Logano said.

Logano had the top car all weekend, posting the fastest practice time Friday and then taking the pole Saturday.

Logano, once a much-hyped phenom when he broke in with Joe Gibbs Racing, was under pressure to produce victories in the final year of his four-year contract.

Logano's win continues a recent uptick of solid results in the Cup series. He has insisted this season his contract status has not added pressure.

But in Victory Lane, he hoped the victory sent a message to his critics.

"I hope it shuts them all up," he said. "It means a whole lot."

He shoved aside one of his earliest supporters to take the checkered flag. Martin saw Logano race at 11 years old and raved about his potential as future Cup champion. Back in 2005, Martin said Logano "can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR."

High praise.

Higher expectations.

Before Sunday, Logano had the one victory and never has finished higher than 20th in the standings in three full Cup seasons. He has no deal with JGR for next season.

"I haven't been informed where I stand for next year yet, so that's all up in the air," Logano said. "Obviously, winning a race means a lot and it helps that out a ton. For sure, right now, my future's not set with anybody."

Logano finished a season-high eighth in the Cup race at Dover last week and now has three top-10s in his past four starts. It could be a sign that things are finally falling into place in his first season with crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

Logano joined JGR drivers Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch as 2012 Cup winners.

The 53-year-old Martin, looking for his first win since 2009, took the lead with eight laps left. The 22-year-old Logano, though, bumped Martin out of the way and zipped past for the winning move with three laps remaining.

"I'd call that a bump-and-run," Martin said. "It has been acceptable in this racing for a long time. It's not how I would have done it. Certainly, had I had a fast enough car, he would have gotten a return."

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