Sunday, April 9, 2023

CUP: Joey Logano struggles through multiple incidents en route to second last-place finish of 2023

PHOTO: @joeylogano

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Joey Logano scored the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track when his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford fell out with crash damage after 96 of 250 laps.

The finish, which came in Logano’s 515th series start, was his second of the season and first since Las Vegas, five races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 28th for the #22, the 645th from a crash, and the 728th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 44th for the #22, the 1,007th for Ford, and the 1,327th from a crash.

Coming into Sunday’s Bristol Dirt Race, where he was the inaugural winner in 2021, Logano had just one finish worse than 11th since his last-place run in Las Vegas, which was a 28th in the chaotic road course event in COTA. This span also included a in from the pole at Atlanta, where he scored his first win of the season with a last-lap pass on Brad Keselowski. Logano would pull double-duty at Bristol, combined with an effort with ThorSport in the #66, to which he brought last-minute sponsorship from Hang 10 Car Wash. There, Logano stormed to a dominant victory, leading 138 of 150 laps in an easy win over last summer’s Bristol winner Ty Majeski. Coming into the Cup race, Logano had to be one of the favorites.

Just like the Truck Series race, Sunday’s Cup event had practice and qualifying washed out by rain on Friday, putting a premium on Saturday’s four 15-lap heat races. 

In Heat Race #1, Ross Chastain was to start 10th and last in his #1 AdventHealth Chevrolet, but B.J. McLeod voluntarily surrendered 3rd on the grid to drop to the rear in his #78 Gunk Chevrolet. As McLeod would later report, this would be his first dirt track race in 35 years, dating back to his time running late models. At the end of Lap 1, McLeod was 1.594 seconds back of the lead, but dropped 1.608 seconds back of 9th by Lap 4. Under the first caution for Josh Berry’s spin, McLeod asked his crew for advice on how to run faster laps. The crew said the leaders were gaining ground through Turns 3 and 4, and suggested he charge the corner more. But McLeod’s car felt “too stable” for the rest of the race, keeping him in last place until the checkered flag.

Heat Race #2 placed Todd Gilliland in the 9th and final spot, driving the #38 Speedy Cash Ford. “Go where they're not here,” the crew told him. “Eyes forward.” After warm-up laps, Gilliland reported his car felt snug on entry and free on exit. Gilliland soon began to climb up the ranks, and by Lap 3 dropped Noah Gragson to last in the #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet. From there, Gragson lost ground exponentially, dropping 1.900 seconds back of 8th place on Lap 9, 2.504 back on Lap 13, and 3.333 back of Lap 15.

Starting 9th and last in Heat Race #3 was J.J. Yeley in Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Public Sq. Ford, which also carried a tribute to the victims of the victims of The Covenant School shooting, and a link to a fundraiser for the victims. During the warm-up laps, Ty Dillon spun his #77 Ferris Commercial Mowers Chevrolet, then lined up in the 3rd spot. On the first lap, Yeley promptly dropped Chris Buescher to last in the #17 Fastenal Ford, which now was locked in a tight side-by-side battle with both Ty Dillon and Matt Crafton, the latter a late driver change in the #51 Biohaven Ford after Cody Ware responded to an off-track obligation. By Lap 6, Yeley had climbed his way to 4th, and two circuits later, Buescher inched ahead of Crafton by 0.040 at the stripe. On Lap 9, when Yeley climbed to 3rd, the tail end of the field remained locked in a knot of traffic. Buescher re-took the spot, followed on Lap 12 by Corey LaJoie in the #7 NationsGuard Chevrolet. By then, Ty Dillon had also lost ground, and his teammate LaJoie pulled alongside on Lap 14, the pair just 0.091 apart at the line. Dillon pulled ahead on the final lap, and LaJoie crossed the stripe 0.195 behind. Yeley remained in 3rd, which would place him 3rd on the grid – the best-ever Cup start for Rick Ware Racing, and Yeley’s best since he started 4th at Phoenix on November 11, 2007. Yeley finished the night on the lead lap in 20th, his best run in a Cup race since he finished 12th at Daytona on July 7, 2019.

Logano was in Heat Race #4, where he started next-to-last ahead of 9th-place Kevin Harvick in the #4 Busch Light Ford. Harvick remained last at the start, and had dropped 0.328 second back of the next car of Austin Cindric at the end of Lap 1. On Lap 5, Harvick cleared Daniel Suarez in the #99 Jockey Chevrolet, and by Lap 8, Suarez fell 1.373 seconds back of Harvick. The next time by, Suarez spun by himself, then struggled to re-fire the engine. A push-truck got him going again. The crew thought Suarez was a lap down, and planned to use the rest of the heat as a test session, but then learned they were still on the lead lap. Suarez closed to within 0.157 of Harvick at the end of the heat, but remained in last place. “This car is driving like a dirt car,” said Suarez. “I need it to drive like a regular car.”

Logano finished the final heat in 5th place, which after “passing points” were tabulated secured him 12th on the starting grid for Sunday.

Rolling off 37th and last was McLeod, the last-place finisher of Heat Race #1, with fellow last-place heat runners Gragson, LaJoie, and Suarez just ahead. When the race started, McLeod climbed to 34th on the first lap, dropping Ty Dillon to last. By Lap 3, both had dropped Buescher to last, though he was side-by-side with Dillon’s #77, just 0.069 second ahead. Dillon cleared Buescher by Lap 5, and McLeod returned to last place on Lap 6. Now with clear track around him, McLeod was encouraged by his team to try different lines. He remined in touch with the tail end of the field when the caution fell on Lap 12.

This was the moment of Logano’s first incident, where he checked-up for a spinning Bubba Wallace off Turn 2. As Logano slowed for Wallace’s #23 McDonald’s / Dr. Pepper Toyota, Logano was rear-ended by William Byron’s #24 Raptor Chevrolet, sending Logano spinning rear-first into the sand barrels near pit entrance. Byron then yanked his car right, which clipped Todd Gilliland’s #38 and sent his Ford into the outside wall. All cars involved continued, and crews cleaned up the couple sand barrels knocked over in the incident. This put Logano in last on Lap 12, and he called for a handling adjustment during his stop, looking to run tighter. Gilliland cut down a left-front tire in the incident, and he took last on Lap 17 to get it replaced. This put Gilliland one lap down, and he incurred a redundant penalty for both pitting too soon and having too many crew members over the wall.

While Gilliland had been pleased with his car’s handling during the opening laps, he struggled after the incident, and by Lap 34 was hoping for another caution. As the crew told Gilliland to remain “smooth on the pedal” and “control the yaw,” the next caution did come on Lap 39. Again, Logano found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, it was Matt Crafton who spun off the corner, and Logano checked-up, nearly causing Gilliland to collide with him. “That was a lot of fun,” said Gilliland, now back on the lead lap. “Let’s do it again.” On Lap 42, Gilliland dropped McLeod back to last, and the #78 remained in 37th for the Lap 46 restart. Soon after, Erik Jones’ #43 Club Wyndham Chevrolet collided with Corey LaJoie’s #7, sending both cars to pit road. LaJoie pitted first on Lap 52, but received a pass-through penalty for speeding in Section 1. As LaJoie prepared to serve his penalty, Jones cut down a tire from the incident and made a stop of his own. This dropped LaJoie three laps down to Jones’ two, putting Jones in the Lucky Dog spot. “43 came down and door-slammed us,” said LaJoie’s team on Lap 61. “Probably killed it. We were good before that.”

The Spire Motorsports team advised LaJoie to lag back for the restart, and to see if the team’s adjustments helped. This kept him well clear of a collision between Josh Berry, Ty Dillon, and Denny Hamlin, which ended Stage 1 just short of the checkered flag. All three drivers cleared the “Crash Clock” on the Lap 76 restart, at which point LaJoie remained in last place. Logano’s struggles continued as he drifted high and lost several spots. The next two cautions for spins by Jonathan Davenport (Lap 81) and Michael McDowell (Lap 88 – the first of two times McDowell spun 360 degrees without hitting anything) put Jones back on the lead lap, making LaJoie next in line to receive the Lucky Dog. But before that could happen, yet another incident occurred – again involving Logano - and this time the caution didn’t fall.

On Lap 95, Logano tangled with Daniel Suarez, leaving Suarez with left-front damage and Logano with a smoking right-rear. Logano made it to pit road, where on Lap 99 his crew said “We’re done – a-frame’s broke.” LaJoie dropped Logano to last place the next time by, and the #22 pulled behind the wall on Lap 103, done for the day under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” On Lap 110, Logano’s crew radioed “We’re officially done,” and NASCAR’s garage official confirmed this on Lap 115.

While the race was slowed by 14 cautions for 73 laps, they didn’t fall in time for LaJoie to capitalize on the “Lucky Dog” even once, and he finished the race three laps down in 30th spot. Five of the seven cars behind him failed to finish. Kyle Larson won Stage 1 in his #5 Chevrolet and appeared to have the best car in the field, but a game of bumper tag with Ryan Preece led to an incident on Lap 175 where Larson bounced off the outside wall, then spun out, collecting Davenport’s #13. Both drivers were eliminated with Davenport taking 36th and Larson 35th. Crafton took 34th after the engine let go while Noah Gragson’s bid for a Top 10 fell short after his #42 bounced off the wall and spent several laps on pit road, taking 33rd.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #22 in a Cup Series dirt track race since November 26, 1959, when Bob Welborn’s 1959 Ogden-Ridgeway Chevrolet crashed on the opening lap around the Columbia (South Carolina) Speedway. Though run in late 1959, this was the second round of the 1960 championship. The very next rounds were in Daytona in February 1960 for the lead-up to the Daytona 500.

37) #22-Joey Logano / 96 laps / crash
36) #13-Jonathan Davenport / 176 laps / crash
35) #5-Kyle Larson / 177 laps / crash / led 75 laps / won stage 1
34) #51-Matt Crafton / 185 laps / engine
33) #42-Noah Gragson / 205 laps / running

1st) Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing, Spire Motorsports (2)
2nd) Kaulig Racing, Legacy Motor Club (1)

1st) Chevrolet (6)
2nd) Ford (2)


No comments: