Joey Logano isn’t making friends in the playoffs, but does it really matter?
For the third time in the last eight playoff races, a driver climbed from his car upset with how Logano raced them and suggested a form of payback could be coming.
* Martin Truex Jr. called Logano’s bump-and-run on the final lap of last fall’s playoff race at Martinsville a “cheap shot” and said days before the championship race in Miami: “I won’t just wreck a guy … unless it is the 22.” (Logano did take part in the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Catwalk for a Cause event in May).
* Aric Almirola was upset with how Logano raced him in last fall’s playoff race at Texas, which was a week after Logano had assured his spot in the championship event by winning at Martinsville. Almirola said then: “He just continues to make things harder on himself. … When Homestead comes around if I’m not in it, he’ll know it.” Asked how, Almirola responded: “Just make it really difficult on him.” (Almirola and Logano talked a day later).
* Denny Hamlin expressed his frustration with Logano after last weekend’s playoff race at Dover. Logano was 24 laps down when Hamlin, who was leading, couldn’t get around him late in stage 2. Hamlin lost the lead and finished third in the stage, costing him a playoff point. “He just pissed off some guys that he’s racing with now,” Hamlin said of Logano. “So now we’re going to race him extra hard for what? For the reason he didn’t want to go 26 laps down? Anybody would tell you that’s just not a good choice.”
So far nothing has happened — except Logano winning last year’s Cup title.
That Logano races hard is no surprise. It’s a part of his DNA. His second career Cup win came in 2012 after he did a bump-and-run on Mark Martin in the final laps at Pocono. Logano has had issues throughout his career with Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Truex, Almirola and Hamlin, among others. So, yes, this is Logano’s style.
But even Logano admitted during last weekend’s race at Dover he was in a tough position. This was his radio conversation with crew chief Todd Gordon after stage 2 ended:
Gordon: Did a good job there, man. I know we got eaten up there at the end, but you did a good job of hanging in the whole time.
Logano: Yeah. I dunno. Trying to do the right thing by everyone.
Gordon: Yeah. You’re in a tough spot. You are. I totally understand it.
Logano: What’s our situation now? How many more laps do I have to make up?
Gordon: 54 is 14 laps down. We’re 24 laps down. The 52 is 13. The 51 is 12. Some of those guys won’t end up having enough tires to run the whole race, so, we’ll see where it gets. We’re 36 right now. Every spot we can get from here is a point.”
Logano would not pass the 54 (Garrett Smithley), 52 (JJ Yeley) or 51 (B.J. McLeod). Logano finished 34th, gaining spots only after mechanical issues caused Chris Buescher and Ryan Blaney to the garage.
While Logano’s conversation was taking place, other team radios were lit about his driving.
Hamlin didn’t realize Logano was so many laps down. Told he was, Hamlin said on his radio: “Then what the (expletive) is he doing racing us like this? Twenty-four laps?”
Logano also was a discussion point on Kyle Larson’s radio.
Larson: He’s racing awful hard, huh?
Crew chief Chad Johnston: You sound like you’re surprised. Nothing new.
Larson: I am surprised that he’s racing that hard at 24 laps down, I can see one up.
Johnston: Yeah. I think it is all things we have to put in our memory bank. And when we get the opportunity to do the same thing to him, we remember that, don’t cut him any slack. But, for today we have to race to win, so, we’ll let him go to the back or do a wave around and get one of ‘em back so he can be 23 down. And we’ll go race for a win.”
Memory bank is the key word. Drivers and teams don’t forget. Should Logano advance to the third round, he could face quite a challenge.
Two of the three races in the third round are at Martinsville and ISM Raceway near Phoenix. Both feature plenty of traffic and can be difficult to pass at — and that’s without someone mad at you. NASCAR is expected to approve a traction compound to help drivers pass at ISM Raceway, the last chance for competitors to earn a spot in the Championship 4 race the following week in Miami.
Will Logano’s actions catch up to him in the coming weeks? Or will he be on his way to a second championship while divers are left to mutter about how the No. 22 Team Penske Ford races?
Potential can be such an overbearing description for some. While Kyle Larson exudes California cool, many have expected him to win more often. In some cases, his team needed better cars or pit stops. In other cases, Larson needed to be better.
He said that last weekend’s win at Dover was an example of how he is improving.
“It takes focus to win in any type of car, but it takes a different type of focus to win a 400‑ or 500‑mile race,” Larson said after his sixth career Cup victory, which moved him to the next round. “You know, in a sprint car race, it’s 30, 40 laps, and they don’t have an opportunity to work on their car at any point in the race to make it better, where in this I’ve tried to get better at my communication and tried to make it easier for the team to figure out what adjustments to make because it felt like when I look at other people in the past, I’ve been good the first half of races or even past that, but then it seems like as other people get to work on their cars, that’s where they maybe get better than me at the end and that’s what they find to go out there and win.
“(Sunday) I felt like I was struggling, I was getting frustrated in the early part of the race, and then took a deep breath, changed up what I was doing behind the wheel, and we also made our car better at the same time, and here we are with a win.
“I think that’s just the things that guys like Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick and Logano, Truex, Keselowski are really good at just staying focused, and not that I wasn’t focused, it just takes a different level of focus.”
It was easy to miss Kyle Busch’s finish Sunday at Dover. Other than the speeding penalty he incurred on Lap 122, he was not noticeable on the way to a sixth-place finish.
Busch had expressed his disappointment not only with the racing but his result at Dover in May when he finished 10th and did not exude confidence heading into the playoff race. He qualified 18th, worst of the remaining playoff drivers. He said his car’s setup was similar to what teammate Martin Truex Jr. used to win at Dover in May but still didn’t work for him.
That Busch came out of a race that he didn’t seem to feel good about with nearly a top-five finish could be viewed as a good sign for his fans. Those points earned could mean more should he encounter problems in Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Busch enters the race third in the standings, 48 points ahead of Joey Logano, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot.