2013 Geico 400: Earnhardt, Logano loses engines; Busch, Johnson, Gordon rally

Robert Laberge

For Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano, their NASCAR title hopes might have come to an end after just one race.

Broken tools, fire, mishaps on pit road and other assorted troubles made it an eventful night for many of those competing in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

"It's going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind"-Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The first casualty of the 13 Chasers was Joey Logano, who started on the pole after breaking the track record in qualifying and leading the opening 32 laps. Following a five-hour delay for rain, Logano dropped a cylinder in his Ford motor and was a non-factor the rest of the way.

His engine would eventually expire completely, leading to a 37th-place finish.

"It is a bummer to have it in the Chase when you are running for a championship," Logano said. "I feel like Chicago was one of those tracks we could win at. Everyone was doing the right thing. We have a really fast race car and we put it on the pole and led laps today, it just wasn't our day I guess."

Logano wasn't the only title contender to suffer a blown motor, though, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a similar fate -- albeit in far more spectacular fashion.

As he came off of Turn 2, thick white smoke began emanating from underneath Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet. When he came to a stop in the infield, flames began shooting out from underneath.

For Logano and Earnhardt, the mechanical failures were especially crippling to their title aspirations. Logano fell to 12th in the standing, 52 points back. Earnhardt is in 13th -- last -- place and 53 markers behind championship leader Matt Kenseth.

"It's going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind," Earnhardt said. "We have some pretty tough competition in the Chase. The average finish is going to be inside the top 10 to win the championship. So you can do the numbers, you can do the math."

Even those who posted strong finishes were not immune to misfortune Sunday night.

Fourth-place finisher Kurt Busch incurred a speeding penalty on his second pit stop of the day and dropped a lap while serving his penalty. With the aid of the wave-around rule followed by an opportune yellow flag that allowed him maintain his position on the lead lap, Busch clawed his way back up the running order.

Also finding himself a lap down at point was Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a cut a tire, but fought his way back and was rewarded with a sixth-place finish.

It was a result that left him ecstatic afterward.

"That was an incredible accomplishment," Gordon said. "It just shows how much fight this team has in them. We never give up."

It was Jimmie Johnson, Gordon's teammate, who dealt with the most unusual set of circumstances.

It all began when Johnson, the race leader, hit pit road on Lap 75 for a routine pit stop. An official, thinking the rear-tire changer had missed a lugnut on the right side, called the 48 team for an infraction before realizing his mistake and waving off the penalty. The holdup dropped him to fifth in the running order.

"The official thought there were only four on there," crew chief Chad Knaus said. "We all make mistakes. That happens from time to time."

Johnson's adventures on pit road were not over. Later, a jack broke and resulted in a substantially-prolonged stop. When he returned to the track, Johnson was 19th before a late charge to finish fifth.

"From a jack failing to a call on pit road for a lugnut that was not supposedly on, and a variety of issues, it was a great comeback," Johnson said. "... Just a great effort, you know. We never gave up. Just got to keep working through things."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Victory keeps Matt Kenseth atop point standings | Full results

Jeff Gordon fights back to finish sixth

Mark Martin: Rule change won't stop "monkey business"

Longform: The good times and hard life of Dick Trickle

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