Sunday, March 5, 2023

CUP: Joey Logano goes from pole to his first last-place finish since 2018

SCREENSHOT: FOX Sports, tweeted by @JoeyLogano

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Joey Logano scored the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway when his #22 Pennzoil Ford was eliminated under the DVP after 183 of 271 laps.

UPDATE (March 7, 2023): The official results listed by NASCAR now show Logano out by "DVP," not "crash" as originally listed. The statistics have been updated accordingly.

The finish, which came in Logano’s 510th series start, was his first of the season and first since August 5, 2018 at Watkins Glen, 161 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 6th by way of the DVP, 27th for the #22, and the 727th for Ford. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 9th from the DVP, 43rd for the #22, and the 1,005th for Ford.

When Logano last rolled into Las Vegas last October, he did so full of confidence – an attitude that was rewarded when he held off Ross Chastain and became the first to lock himself into the Championship Four. It was momentum he carried all the way into Phoenix, where he won the pole and claimed his second Cup Series title in convincing fashion. That momentum has continued into the current year, where he finished runner-up to Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the Daytona 500, then challenged Kyle Busch for the lead in Fontana before finishing 10th, putting him just one point behind Chastain for the overall lead among drivers who had yet to win.

For Sunday’s Vegas race, sponsored by his own sponsor Pennzoil, Logano would debut a throwback paint scheme that was reminiscent of both Johnny Benson, Jr.’s Pennzoil Pontiac from 1996-1997 and Steve Park’s Pennzoil Chevrolet from 1998 through 2003. The car was also fast. In practice, Logano ranked 3rd behind only Kyle Larson and Logano’s teammate Ryan Blaney. He then gained speed in qualifying, winning the pole with a speed of 186.053mph (29.024 seconds). It as the 27th pole of his career, and his first since last fall’s championship round at Phoenix.

Securing the 36th and final spot was B.J. McLeod, whose #78 had the American Hartford Gold wrap pulled off after the checkered flag at Fontana and replaced by one from Circle B Diecast. A transaxle issue kept McLeod from both practicing and qualifying, and he’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty for unapproved adjustments. Also docked were 35th-place Harrison Burton, whose #21 Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford was destroyed after a freak accident in practice. A lugnut from either a Truck Series or XFINITY Series entry punctured the radiator, causing a water leak that got under his tires. Also penalized was Tyler Reddick, whose #45 Monster Energy Toyota needed an engine change. Not penalized was Josh Berry, who was called on to substitute for Chase Elliott in the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet after Chase Elliott fractured his tibia in a snowboarding accident. After several adjustments by the team, Berry qualified the car in 32nd.

When the race started, Burton’s backup car was last across the stripe, 2.582 seconds back of the lead and five-hundredths back of McLeod’s Chevrolet. Both split Berry’s #9, which was trapped in the middle lane through Turns 1 and 2, and at the end of Lap 1, the 36th spot fell to Ty Dillon in the #77 Nations Guard Chevrolet. The next time by, Dillon dropped McLeod back to last, and on Lap 4, Dillon was battling for 34th with J.J. Yeley’s #15 OTR Mobile Ford, the pair just 0.011 apart at the stripe. Dillon cleared Yeley, who McLeod caught on Lap 6, and the pair were just 0.070 apart at the line. By Lap 9, both had cleared Cody Ware, whose #51 Biohaven / Jacob Construction Ford fell to last a full 0.318 back of McLeod.

Like many drivers in the field, Ware was fighting a serious tight condition, and the issue grew worse as he ran over the bumps in the corners. By Lap 14, as Ware also had radio issues with static on Channel 2, he was 1.035 seconds back of McLeod, who was also losing touch with 34th-place Yeley. On Lap 19, Ware said he was tighter in Turns 3 and 4 than in Turns 1 and 2, then on Lap 26 became the first to lose a lap on track. As the leaders rushed by, Ware said his car was either too free, or increasingly tight from center-off.

On Lap 33, Ryan Blaney made an early green-flag stop in his #12 Menards / Pennzoil Ford, dropping him to last on Lap 34. The remaining stops saw several drivers incur pit road penalties, further shuffling the order. Harrison Burton re-took the spot on Lap 37, followed by Ware on Lap 38, before Noah Gragson was caught on back-to-back speeding penalties in his #42 Sunseeker Resorts Chevrolet. Gragson lost three laps and took last on Lap 43, holding the spot until he clawed past Ware on Lap 56. Ware, meanwhile, was trying different lines around the track to no avail, and continued to lose ground. When Stage 1 ended on Lap 81, he was nearly five full laps back. Ware’s crew called for more front grip, and the crew took two rounds out of the right-rear, plus two rounds into the left-rear.

Logano pulls behind the wall after his clock expires.

After the Lap 90 restart, Ware reported his car was now free on entry, and was now five laps down by Lap 107. By then, Gragson, who had taken the wave-around, dropped back to 35th behind McLeod. On Lap 116, Ware’s car was once again too tight, shoving the nose off the corners. He made an early pit stop four circuits later, and returned to the track seven laps down. On Lap 131, he radioed that the car was worse in Turn 1, saying “The umps have absolutely killed this car.” Still, he fought onward, even as the car became free on entry and became tight when he got on the throttle. He reached the end of Stage 2 on Lap 166, now eight laps down.

This time, the Rick Ware Racing crew looked under the hood of Ware’s #51 and got two rounds in the left-rear. He nearly left without a hood pin secured, then backed up to get it replaced. On Lap 174, the race was back underway with Ware showing nine laps down. All 38 cars were still running, and no cautions had fallen for on-track incidents. That soon changed on Lap 182.

After winning the pole, Joey Logano led the first nine laps, then was passed by eventual race winner William Byron, who went on to lead 176 of the remaining 262. On Lap 141, Logano was mired back in 15th when he got into the Turn 3. He continued on, only to find even bigger trouble on Lap 182. Stuck on the outside of a three-wide battle with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for 14th spot, Logano held his ground as Keselowski appeared to move up off the corner. The two made contact, and Logano bounced off the fence and slid into the infield grass, where he hopped over part of the infield oval, getting all four tires off the ground. He landed on all four and made it to pit road, where the “Crash Clock” ticked down. Although the clock had been extended to allow for toe link repairs – which Logano’s crew successfully did in less time at Atlanta last July – this time, the clock ran out. “Back it up, to the garage,” said the crew on Lap 187. He was behind the wall on Lap 188, and on Lap 193 – the same moment NASCAR relayed he was out – Logano took last place from Cody Ware. 

Despite a last-lap tangle down the backstretch that involved at least four cars, Logano was the day’s only retiree. Ware remained 35th, ultimately losing 12 laps to the leaders. Ty Dillon was another six laps ahead in 34th, on the same lap as J.J. Yeley in 33rd. B.J. McLeod rounded out the group another lap ahead in 32nd.

*Logano is the first driver to win the pole on speed and finish last in the same race since September 16, 2018, when Erik Jones won the pole at the same Las Vegas track before his #20 DeWalt Toyota crashed after 147 laps. There have since been three other occasions, but the pole was earned in different ways: May 20, 2020 at Darlington by Ryan Preece (field inversion under COVID-19 protocols), July 18, 2021 at New Hampshire by Kyle Busch (metric qualifying), and August 27, 2022 at Daytona by Kyle Larson (qualifying rained out).
*The 183 laps completed by Logano are second-most among Cup Series last-place finishers at Las Vegas. The record remains with Kurt Busch, whose #1 Gear Wrench Chevrolet turned 187 before a wreck on September 15, 2019.

36) #22-Joey Logano / 183 laps / DVP
35) #51-Cody Ware / 259 laps / running
34) #77-Ty Dillon / 265 laps / running
33) #15-J.J. Yeley / 265 laps / running
32) #78-B.J. McLeod / 266 laps / running

1st) Kaulig Racing, Penske Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Ford (1)


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