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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4

It may have taken us nine playoff races to get to this point, but the cream has risen to the top once again as the best four competitors all season long will battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

JOHN HARRELSON | NKP

Joey Logano

Season Statistics: Two races wins, five stage wins, 12 top-five’s, 25 top-10’s

Joey Logano may have wrecked out at ISM Raceway, but that’s okay as his victory at Martinsville Speedway gave him a ticket to the Championship 4. Despite hitting a snag in the momentum, he has posted eight top-14 finishes in the last nine races. But the concern for him as whether the line of drivers who are upset with him – Martin Truex Jr. and Aric Almirola – will take action on their feelings at Homestead, especially Almirola who is out of contention.

He has a pair of fourths and a sixth in his last three starts at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

Kyle Busch

Season Statistics: 8 race wins, 6 stage wins, 21 top-five’s, 27 top-10’s

Kyle Busch did not have the day he wanted in Texas Motor Speedway, having a loose wheel along with a pit road penalty, but that’s in the rear view now following a victory at ISM Raceway. 

He has finished in the top-six in his last three appearances at Homestead, including a victory in 2015 en route to being crowned the series champion.

MATTHEW T. THACKER | NKP

Kevin Harvick

Season Statistics: 8 race wins, 18 stage wins, 22 top-five’s, 28 top-10’s

With seven wins during the regular season, Kevin Harvick had a healthy cushion entering this round. He used that to his advantage, along with a 10th (Martinsville) and fifth (ISM) when he was stripped of his automatic playoff lock and 40 points due to an illegal spoiler at Texas Motor Speedway. There may be some concern with crew chief Rodney Childers suspended, but Tony Gibson seems to have everything in control.

He has finished in the top-10 in his last 10 races at Homestead-Miami Speedway, including a victory in 2014 en route to being crowned the series champion.

RUSSELL LABOUNTY | NKP

Martin Truex Jr.

Season Statistics: Four race wins, 10 stage wins, 19 top-five’s, 20 top-10’s

Although there may be concerns about Martin Truex Jr.‘s performance due to a lack-luster post-season, he was able to use his 38 playoff points and mostly solid top-10 finishes (he placed 14th at ISM) to enable him to be apart of the Championship 4. That said, he has shown potential via vying for wins both the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL and Martinsville until he was wrecked on the last lap.  There is extra motivation with Furniture Row Racing closing doors at season’s end, along with him telling Logano at Martinsville, “He may have won the race, but he ain’t winning the damn war.”

After three straight races with finishes outside the top-10 at Homestead, Truex won the Ford EcoBoost 400 last year to secure the 2017 series championship. 

All Photos Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

When it came to intermediate tracks on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Texas Motor Speedway was one that was circled as one to watch. The drivers covered all three grooves on the track, while track president Eddie Gossage entertained with his theatrics.

While those stunts may remain from Gossage, the track has lost it’s luster over the past two years since the reconfiguration and repave. The AAA Texas 500 now becomes a fight for the bottom groove, as drivers find it difficult to pass while racing on the racer’s edge. The result was a 501 mile race on Sunday afternoon strung out through the field without many battles for position.

The saving grace for the end of the event was a pair of cautions in the late stages, producing a pair of restarts that saw Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney battle for the top spot. The continued dominance from Harvick paid off as the mistakes which took him out of other events didn’t happen, and he made his way into victory lane to punch his ticket for Homestead-Miami Speedway.

His counterparts in THE BIG THREE weren’t so lucky with pit road speeding penalties and loose wheels taking both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. out of contention for the win. Truex rebounded for a top-10, but Busch ultimately finished 17th. Those bonus points earned through victories and stage wins through the first 26 races are still paying, as the gap to the rest of the field is still significant. Ultimately, if one of them is set to be left on the outside of the Championship 4, that will have to happen courtesy of a win by one of the other four contenders.

The battle for championship does continue to get interesting, though. Joey Logano may be locked in for the Championship 4, but he’s making his life harder it may appear. After upsetting Truex with a late race bump-and-run at Martinsville, he made contact with Aric Almirola late at Texas.

“The 22 just went down in turn three and put it right on my door and about wrecked us both,” Almirola said post-race. “I am not sure. I will have to talk to him. He just continues to make things harder on himself. If that is the way he wants to race me when he is already locked into Homestead and we are out here fighting for our lives, that is fine. When Homestead comes around if I am not in, he will know it.”

Although the contact can be attributed to hard racing and the style of what Texas has become, one to has to ask – will it ultimately cost Logano at Homestead-Miami Speedway? We will see in a couple weeks.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Standing on the backstretch post-race after the dust settled, Joey Logano put it correctly when he said “you have to expect it at the end of the race. You’re going to have some bumping and grinding.” It’s why the fans tuned in, and they certainly got a show in the closing laps of the First Data 500.

In case you missed the battle for the win between Martin Truex Jr. and Logano, have a view – or simply review once again because of being that amazing.

Short track racing has always been about contact with quotes like “bump and run” and “rubbin’ is racing” becoming marquee notes in motorsports discussion. The way this event played out exactly filled that manta.

Plus, a championship is on the line, the ultimate goal for any driver and team at the end of the season. We always want to drivers to race as hard as possible for the title, truly earning it with competitive spirit. Logano displayed that in the fact that he’d stop at nothing to lock himself in.

It isn’t the first time we’ve seen contact at Martinsville Speedway – look at last year with Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. Except there’s a difference in 2018. Hamlin dumped Elliott, turning him around, giving him no chance to get a good finish out of the way. Now this year, Logano allowed Truex to remain straight. It was textbook short racing; a bump and run.

Obviously, if you’re a fan of Logano, you will praise your driver for the win he scored the win and is now locked into the Championship 4. Clearly, those who follow Truex will call it a dirty move. That’s why fans go to these races – for the excitement, and arguments like this will fuel social media discussion which can only mean good things moving forward. Hence why we need more short tracks on the schedule for continued excitement.

That said, Logano has to know as soon as he laid the bump of his No. 22 to Truex, it opened the door for a returned favor. Hence the promise now made by Truex moving forward, in saying “He won the battle; he ain’t gonna win the damn war.” Truex’s frustration is warranted because a win would’ve done the same for him moving forward. Secondly, after racing “next to him for six laps” and never knocking out of the way, it’s understandable that anger is fueled by felling you roughed unfairly.

Logano knows something about payback and how that can work. Just ask him about Matt Kenseth in 2015. Whether something happens once again this year, it has given fans another reason to tune into the next three races. 

The other reason to tune in boils down to the playoff standings. With Logano locking up the win, and the points advantage held by THE BIG THREE (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Truex) over the field, the remaining four drivers below the cut-off are essentially entering must-win territory to advance to the Championship 4 and knock someone out. Can they get it done?

SIDES NOTES:

  • A lot of people complained when the playoff emjois begin appearing on the sides of cars, but let’s be real – the NBC logo just looks even more ridiculous, even if for a cool cause with the signed fender for a fan. 
  • Why wasn’t the red flag used when the safety crews ran into issues getting Kyle Larson‘s car off track? Just look at the number of laps eaten up there.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Joey Logano wins at Martinsville in wild, controversial finish

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Joey Logano provided his own interpretation of the Golden Rule in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, as in “Do unto others as others didn’t do to you.”

With a guaranteed spot in the Championship 4 Round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at stake, Logano moved the Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. out of the way in Turns 3 and 4 of the final lap to win for the first time at the .526-mile short track and claim his berth in the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Just thinking about Miami, man,” Logano said unapologetically after climbing from his car to an evenly divided chorus of cheers and boos from fans in the frontstretch grandstand. “Some are going to like it, and haters are going to hate a little bit, but I’m a hard racer. I don’t think that’s a secret to anyone. We’re here to win a championship this year.”

Truex, who cleared Logano off Turn 2 on the final lap after an extended side-by-side battle, vowed that Logano wouldn’t win his first title this season.

“He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war,” promised Truex, who slid across the finish line in third place after Denny Hamlin edged him for second in a wild scramble off the final corner. “That’s it. I’m not letting him – I’m going to win the championship…

“I was next to him for six laps. I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. It’s short-track racing, but what goes around comes around.”

From past experience, Logano knows that retaliation can be sudden and decisive. In 2015, after turning Matt Kenseth to win a Playoff race at Kansas, Logano appeared a likely winner at Martinsville and a favorite for the championship until Kenseth pile-drove him into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville and ended his Playoff run.

But that incident seemed a distant memory on Sunday evening, as Logano savored his second victory of the season, the 20th of his career and the cherished grandfather clock trophy that comes with a Martinsville win.

“We raced hard there,” Logano said. “He raced really clean, and I laid the bumper to him, so I don’t expect him to be happy. We had to do what we’ve got to do, and maybe there’s something he’s got to do, and we’ll hash it out, I’m sure, one way or another.

“But that was our shot. It may be our only shot, so we had to make it happen.”

Hamlin, who had an excellent long-run car but couldn’t fight his way past fourth-place finisher Kyle Busch and fifth-place Brad Keselowski in time to challenge for the win, nevertheless had a ringside seat for the pyrotechnics between Logano and Truex.

“I think the 22 (Logano) saw he was in a vulnerable position,” Hamlin said. “They were side by side for two laps. The 22 was on the outside. That’s a position where you can’t do anything to the leader. So it looked like to me that he conceded the spot on the white-flag lap. Once I saw that he conceded the spot, followed in behind him, I knew we were in for an exciting Turn 3 and 4.

“I knew it was coming. Everyone probably saw it was coming. I just think it would have been still a cool battle if they would have just stayed side by side. I think the 22 thought he wasn’t going to win that way.”

Despite finishing third, Truex leaves Martinsville tied for third on the Playoff grid with 10th-place finisher Kevin Harvick, 25 points ahead of Kurt Busch (sixth Sunday), the first driver below the Championship 4 cut line. Harvick is the last driver above the cut line due to a tiebreaker because Truex currently has the higher Round of 8 finish. Kyle Busch sits second on the grid, 46 points ahead of his brother.

Chase Elliott, who ran seventh, is 31 points behind Harvick. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are 42 and 50 points out of fourth, respectively. A late spin cost Bowyer dearly. He finished 21st, one lap down.

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News

Joey Logano claims first 2018 pole for Kansas elimination race

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Shades of Talladega. Only this time Team Penske-driver Joey Logano in particular-joined the Ford domination party.

Saving the fastest lap of the day for the final round of Friday’s knockout qualifying session, Logano navigated 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway in 28.177 seconds (191.646 mph) to claim the pole position for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Logano enters the elimination race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12 with a 39-point cushion over teammate Brad Keselowski, the first driver below the cut line. But that doesn’t dictate a conservative approach for the No. 22 team come Sunday.

“I’m not much of a play-it-safe guy,” said Logano, who earned his first Busch Pole Award of the season, his second at Kansas and the 20th of his career. “I’m not good at it, for one… This race, I wouldn’t say it’s a wild card. We’ve raced here a lot, and we tend to know how the race is going to play out.

“The plan is to race, like we tend to do. We’ve got a good car, obviously. The car’s got a lot of steam. So it’s a normal race for us. Yes, it’s a cutoff race. Yes, there are points involved. Yes, we’ve got to keep up with that, but it’s just a race. Any time you line up for one of these things, the goal is the same. The goal is to win.”

Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick (191.178 mph) qualified second and, in fact, was second fastest in each of the three rounds. Last Friday, the four SHR drivers claimed the top four starting spots at Talladega and ran 1-2-3-4 for most of Sunday’s race.

On Friday, Harvick and Talladega winner Aric Almirola qualified second and third, respectively, but the Team Penske Fords of Ryan Blaney and Keselowski, both of whom face an uphill climb to make the Round of 8, were fourth and fifth.

“Days like today are days that really show us all the hard work that comes from the engine shop, and you saw a lot of the same displayed last week at Talladega from the engines to the oils and the preparation of getting the cars up in the front of the field,” said Harvick, who is locked into the Round of 8 on points. “It’s a good start to the weekend. It gets you good pits stalls and allows you to get everything at the start of the race going and allows you to have a little buffer if your car is not handling right.

“Qualifying days and superspeedway races are a huge credit to the engine shop and the things they do. Our guys do a great job with the cars, qualifying or race trim. It makes it a lot of fun.”

Behind the five Fords were the four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, with Erik Jones qualifying sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, Daniel Suarez eighth and Denny Hamlin ninth. Tenth-place Alex Bowman, who must win on Sunday to advance to the Round of 8, was the only Chevrolet driver in the top 12.

“We were the best in class, I guess,” Bowman said. “We wanted to be quite a bit better than that. I got pretty loose in (Turns) 1 and 2 and had to lift. So we should have been a couple of spots better probably, if we wouldn’t have had that happen.

“But (crew chief) Greg (Ives) made good adjustments. The car got better every run, and we’ll move on from there. We’ve got some work to do run with that other manufacturer towards the front of the field, but I’m confident we can get better and get there.”

Kyle Larson, 11th in the standings and likely in a must-win situation, suffered a setback even before qualifying began. He hit the outside wall on his second lap in opening practice and was forced to a backup car.

Larson, who is 36-points out of eighth place, was 27th in time trials but must drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race because of the change to the backup.

Martin Truex Jr., who currently occupies the final spot inside the Playoff cut line, qualified 12th in his No. 78 Toyota, one spot behind SHR driver Kurt Busch.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Uncharacteristic Talladega Puts Keselowski on Verge of Elimination

Brad Keselowski is the winningest and arguably best superspeedway racer in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with six victories.

After Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired with 10 restrictor plate wins last year, Keselowski took the reigns as the favorite when Daytona and Talladega appear on the schedule.

He started the 1000Bulbs.com 500 looking to capitalize on this success, continue a strong championship run and tie Earnhardt Jr. with six victories at Talladega Superspeedway.

Team Penske won six of the last eight Talladega races entering Sunday, splitting the wins between Keselowski and Joey Logano. Despite a poor qualifying effort that placed the three Team Penske cars in positions 18-20 on the grid, many expected them to move forward quickly.

They advanced through the field early but couldn’t top the formidable Ford fleet of Stewart-Haas Racing.

SHR ran first through fourth for much of the day, leaving Keselowski and teammates with little opportunity to leapfrog the fastest cars.

The No. 2 car did pace the field for 21 laps, and Ryan Blaney led for six, but once the four-car train of SHR returned to the lead, it proved difficult to reclaim it.

This prevented the usual showcase of speed and talent from Keselowski at Talladega, in a race where he couldn’t afford to lose ground in the championship standings.

After entering the day seventh on the playoff grid with 21 points over ninth-place, running out of fuel during Sunday’s overtime finish led the No. 2 to a 27th place finish. Now Keselowski sits ninth in the title battle, 18 points outside the eight advancing positions.

Following three consecutive victories to conclude the regular season at Darlington and Indianapolis and to begin the playoffs at Las Vegas, many ranked Keselowski with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. as the championship favorites.

A solid night at Richmond Raceway where he led 67 laps and finished ninth followed by a strong run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL before crashing out as the leader, kept expectations high in the Round of 16.

Now a 14th at Dover and 27th at Talladega puts Keselowski essentially in a must-win situation heading to the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Running up front and dominating or taking advantage of the misfortune of others may be his only path forward.

However, he has not fared well at Kansas in recent years, with only one top-10 finish in the last four races.

If Keselowski is to remain a title contender and be among the final four for the second consecutive year, a championship-caliber performance will be required next Sunday at Kansas.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Team Penske Coming Alive At Right Time

LAS VEGAS, Nev — There may not be an organization heading into the playoffs with more momentum than Team Penske.

Brad Keselowski, not only captured a win in the Southern 500 but went a week later to win the Brickyard 400 too, taking home two of the biggest races of the season.

“I think heading into the playoffs; we’re in a decent position, ranked fourth right now, of course, we want to climb to first but, there’s a lot of great competition that won’t make it easy, nor should they,” Keselowski told POPULAR SPEED. “So with that in mind, the opportunity is in front of us, and we’ll see what we can deliver.”

The Michigan-native’s win was the first for Penske, since teammate Joey Logano’s victory at Talladega in April, and only the second and third throughout the entire season for the organization.

“Yeah, we’ve definitely had some highs and lows throughout the year, and I feel like we started the season relatively strong, and we’re ending the regular season strong, and had some highs and lows in the middle there and we’ll see what we can put together here in the playoffs,” Keselowski said.

However, the success isn’t just solely from the No. 2 team, as the other drivers in the Penske stable have shown strength as well.

At Bristol and Darlington, not did Logano finished in the top-five, but he led laps in both races;  though his focus remains on what his team can do in the playoffs.

“Yeah, I think we’ve made some gains over the last few weeks,” Logano told POPULAR SPEED. “I think the true test will be Vegas, where everybody brings everything they got heading for the playoffs, and you have more of a typical mile and half race track. I think that’s kind of a good baseline to know where you are it.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Blaney hasn’t finished worse than 15th since Daytona in addition to being in contention for wins throughout his first year with the organization.

“I think our speed has been pretty close, I think the 12 car speed has been really good but just haven’t been able to close out in races where we’ve been in contention,” Blaney told POPULAR SPEED. “But, hopefully with him (Keselowski) winning the last few races, gives us some good momentum and I think our cars are closing the gap to some other teams that have been really strong this year. Hopefully, we can keep closing that gap here in the last few where it truly matters.”

The Penske trio isn’t getting ahead of themselves, knowing there is still work that can be done heading into the final ten races of the season.

“I think we got to keep working on our bodies, that’s probably our biggest piece right now,” Logano said. “We got to get our bodies a little bit better to be able to compete with those guys.”

Keselowski and Logano will see an extended advantage heading into the playoffs, with 16 and 11-points over the cutoff. Meanwhile, Blaney owns a four-point cushion over 13th thanks to his stage wins throughout the year.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

Four XFINITY and Truck Series Crew Chiefs Suspended

Following the events at Bristol Motor Speedway this past weekend, four NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crew chiefs have been suspended.

The No. 12 Ford of Austin Cindric and the No. 76 Chevrolet of Spencer Boyd were found in violation of section 10.9.10.4 of the NASCAR rulebook, meaning the lug nut(s) were not properly installed. As a result, crew chiefs Matt Swiderski and Jason Miller were fined $20,000, and suspended from the next three NASCAR XFINITY Series events. Additionally, they lost 35 regular season driver and owner points.

Additionally, the No. 22 Ford of Joey Logano was found in violation of the same rule, resulting in crew chief Brian Wilson being fined $10,000, and suspended from the next XFINITY Series event.

In the Truck Series, the No. 86 of Clay Greenfield was found in violation of section 20.3.4 of the NASCAR rulebook, which is titled “Ballast Containers Note: Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle,” per the penalty report. As a result, crew chief Danny Gill, truck chief Melvin Burns Jr., and mechanic William Guinade have been suspended from the next three truck events. 

Lastly, the No. 88 Toyota of Matt Crafton was found in violation of section 10.9.10.4, resulting in a $2,500 fine for crew chief Carl Joiner Jr.

Prior to these penalties, only three XFINITY Series had been suspended this year from at least one event, with no truck series suspensions. The previous XFINITY infractions were due to post-race height infractions.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Joey Logano Continues Watkins Glen Domination with NASCAR Xfinity Win

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Joey Logano reaffirmed his mastery of the road course at Watkins Glen International, but it took a three-wide restart late in Saturday’s Zippo 200 for the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford to get the job done.

After winning his fourth straight NASCAR Xfinity Series pole at the 2.45-mile track, Logano took teammate Brad Keselowski and Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ryan Preece three-wide into Turn 1 after a restart on lap 75 of 82.

Logano’s move forced Keselowski wide and Logano cleared his teammate before the entry to Turn 2. But Keselowski wasn’t finished. He hounded Keselowski relentlessly until Keselowski spun in Turn 1 with two laps left.

That gave Logano a comfortable margin, and he cruised to the finish line 3.362 seconds ahead of charging AJ Allmendinger, as Keselowski fell to 10th at the end. Allmendinger passed third-place finisher Justin Allgaier in the final corner to secure the runner-up spot.

“That was all I had,” said Logano, who came to the green for the final restart with six-lap fresher tires than Keselowski. “He was definitely faster. I thought the tires would have been enough to be faster than him.

“I had a good restart and got in front of him, and he dogged me. These Xfinity cars draft quite a bit down these straightaways, and it’s hard to pull away. It felt good to race each other really hard, so it’s cool to see Penske cars doing that.”

The victory was Logano’s third in four races at WGI, his second in four starts this season and the 30th of his career, breaking a tie with Matt Kenseth for seventh on the all-time list.

Preece came home fourth, his fifth top 10 and fourth top five in six 2018 starts. Aric Almirola completed the top five.

Logano won the race’s first stage before a rainstorm forced a change to rain tires. Allmendinger showed his road racing superiority by pulling away to win the second stage before the sun came out and dried the track.

Allmendinger drew a one-lap penalty for sliding too far and pitting outside his stall during a fuel-only green-flag stop on Lap 52, but he fought back to finish second after two late cautions bunched the field.

“Just a dumb mistake on my part,” Allmendinger said. “I was coming in for fuel there, and it was still a little bit damp on pit road… I rolled in and slid a little more than I expected and got the nose over the line, and they’d already started to refuel.

“I just knew that, once we got the yellow, I was going to have to start roughing people up an driving up through there as hard as I could.”

Christopher Bell fell short in his attempt to match Sam Ard’s series record of four straight victories. Bell recovered from a pass-through penalty (for crewmen over the wall too soon on a Lap 16 stop) and finished ninth.

But Bell holds the series lead by 22 points over Cole Custer, who finished sixth on Saturday. Daniel Hemric (16th) is third, 23 points back, and fourth-place Elliott Sadler trials by 26 points.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Joey Logano’s Stock Continues to Rise

It’s crazy how fast the perception of a driver can change in NASCAR, especially for Team Penske’s Joey Logano, who has gone from the driver everybody was talking about, to now being overlooked.

How is this possible?

After three consecutive campaigns with multiple wins, Logano entered 2017 as a championship favorite among many. In the first nine races, he seemed to prove those assumption right, finishing in the top-10 in all but one event and had just grabbed his first victory of the year at Richmond. With a playoff spot presumably locked up, everything seemed to be going great for the No. 22 team. That was up until a few days after the win, where he was penalized for a rear suspension issue, resulting in the loss of all post-season eligibility earned from the previous weekend.

The penalty immediately killed all momentum Logano had, and he would go from contender to disappointment. In the next 17 races, he finished in the top-10 just four times, and led only seven laps in that period. All this resulted in him missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012 and merely vanishing off the radars of many because of it.

Now fast forward to present time, it seems as if Logano is well on his way of proving that the previous season as a fluke. He has performed well enough to sit third in the standings heading into the upcoming off weekend, but he still isn’t considered as a serious title threat and has been overshadowed by drivers with multiple wins. So, should he is a possible championship contender despite the lack of recognition?

Absolutely.

Now, that may seem like a stretch considering he has only won once and, it was at a restrictor plate track (Talladega Superspeedway) and hasn’t shown the dominance others have; but, his consistency is something that must be considered.

This is a team that has qualified great, ran strong, and maybe most of all, done well on off days. For example, in the three races that the 28-year-old hasn’t finished in the top-10,  but rather 19th, 13th, and 22nd. Where in comparison, the two strongest drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick, have multiple results outside the 30th or worse. Making something out of nothing has proven to be so crucial in this sport, and so far, Logano has been the best at it and if he can continue to do this in the playoffs, along with his consistent runs near the front, the odds of him being in the Championship 4 increase by a lot.

Not to get ahead of ourselves as it is only June, and looking at possible championship scenarios in November maybe looking too far forward. However, for the time being, the No. 22 team is a team you need to watch as they continue to rise and put a year worth of disappointment behind them.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.