Comebacks are key in Logano's wild weekend
April 14, 2013, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- How did you spend your last 24 hours?
Whatever the answer to that question may be, it likely doesn’t match up to the flurry of events that Joey Logano experienced. All in the span of less than a day, the Penske Racing driver went from nearly missing the start of the Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night -- his car had to go through the inspection line three times -- to running two of the best races of his career and cementing himself as one of the most talked-about drivers of the young 2013 season.
With his team frantically making adjustments under the careful watch of camera crews and NASCAR officials and the impending start of the race tapping on their shoulders, the chances of passing inspection looked grimmer by the second for Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski.
Logano was forced to start at the back of the pack on Saturday night because his car was not on pit road when command to start engines was given, but swiftly moved through the field and managed a fifth-place finish that had NASCAR Nation buzzing.
“I think for the most part, we're pretty happy about where we finished last night,” Logano said. “Finishing fifth there at the end and I think we almost had a third-place finish there if the caution didn't come out. So, I'm proud of my guys rallying back, working really hard, almost not getting out on the race track, getting the car better throughout the race and then coming home with a top-five. If you'd told me I'd finish fifth in that race before the race started, I'd have been very surprised. I would have told you (that) you were crazy.”
Keselowski’s race was just as admirable, as he worked his way to a ninth-place finish but was the subject of scrutiny after some fiery post-race comments on the inspection process. Logano refrained from making the same degree of remarks, but it’s still a subject that came up between the two drivers on the plane ride to North Carolina -- they got in around 3:30 a.m. -- and will be a topic of discussion moving forward.
“I'll tell you, I don't let stuff bother me,” he said. “Whatever is on my mind at that moment is going to be what my 100 percent focus is, so I'm not getting sidetracked in anything. Yeah, the plane ride home obviously we're going to talk about it and come up with a game plan and I know we're going to have a few more meetings before we figure out what we're going to have to do about anything there, so, we'll take that. There's nothing to hang our heads down (about); it does nothing but build our team stronger all together.”
"Maybe we didn't have the truck to win, but we had the strategy to win."
Vague, for sure, but the point remains that he’s sticking by his teammate and owner of the Brad Keselowski Racing truck he raced in on Sunday at Rockingham.
Despite running on minimal sleep and not getting any practice time in at a track he had only run one time in his career -- an ARCA race in May of 2008 that he won after leading 257 of 312 laps -- Logano qualified seventh, then put on a racing display at The Rock that will be looked back on as the closing mark on a cornerstone weekend for the 22-year-old.
In just his second career Truck Series race -- he placed 26th at Talladega in 2008 -- Logano struggled with his truck at first and was a non-factor through the first half of the race. Following some adjustments during a caution and a rather assertive tire strategy at the midway point, he gained four spots off pit road and his assault began with Keselowski watching from the pit box.
“I had to make some adjustments at the beginning of the race to get it to what I like, mostly, and I felt like once we got that close we were about the fifth-place truck,” said Logano. “And then that caution came out and we were trying to decide if we wanted to put our 30 lap scuffs on, put our last set of stickers on -- and we were all discussing. Brad's on the radio; it was kind of funny actually, and so we decided to go for it, you know, we've got nothing to lose. We're not racing for points or anything, so we'll do the ‘checkers or wreckers’ move.”
The choice worked and his No. 19 truck started inching itself toward the front of the crowd before running into some trouble with a left rear wheel that got loose. It resulted in Logano dropping to 17th and falling off the pace lap. Decidedly, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“We had a left rear wheel loose (and) went down a lap, got the (beneficiary), put our four tires on, got a quick caution, which got us in front of the lap cars, and then it was on.”
With the fresh set, Logano sliced through the field at an aggressive pace -- much like he did at the beginning of Saturday night’s Cup race -- and positioned himself for yet another top-five finish.
“Just passing a ton of cars, just newer tires, and that's Rockingham for you, that's what makes this race track so cool, it's having strategy like that.”
By Lap 190, Logano had moved into third place and he passed Johnny Sauter for second shortly afterward. It appeared as if he’d run out of time before he’d be able to catch up to leader Kyle Larson. A caution on Lap 197 set up the green-white-checkered finish and for all intents and purposes the race was Logano’s to win, as Larson himself has admitted restarts aren’t his strong suit.
“For the last restart, I’m like ‘man, this is perfect'. It played right into my hands. I felt like the caution was going to be a gift, that we could go out there and beat him.”
After leading all but one lap since overtaking James Buescher shortly after the race began, the 20-year-old rookie wasn’t about to give up his precious position and threw a block down low on the restart -- which looked eerily similar to the controversial one Logano used on Tony Stewart at Auto Club Speedway in March. Larson took the checkered, but Logano was a big part of the story.
“I felt like we should have won this race,” Logano said. “Maybe we didn't have the truck to win, but we had the strategy to win. So, we'll take this. I'm running Kansas next weekend (with the) same team, and I feel like we've learned a lot ... Being in the practice car next week will help and we'll try to get a win there.”
Victory or not, it was a heck of a 24 hours for Logano.
And it’s only just the beginning.
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