Big swings help Logano rebound for runner-up finish

CONCORD, N.C. — After 600 miles dotted with lead changes, crashes and plot twists, Joey Logano could still manage some deadpan humor after a long Sunday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

The Coca-Cola 600 again boiled down to another late-race clash between Logano and sometimes rival Martin Truex Jr., the two most recent series champions. With one of NASCAR’s crown jewels on the line, their contest for the lead was hard-fought but fair.

“Of course. Haven’t we every time?” Logano said with a wry grin forming. “My opinion, at least.”

RELATED: Full race results | Truex scores win at Charlotte

With no fury or friction reminiscent of their run-ins past, Logano chalked up a runner-up finish behind eventual winner Truex in the longest race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. The result capped a major rally from an ill-handling early portion of the 400-lap race, highlighted by Logano’s charge from sixth to second on the final restart with five laps remaining.

Logano dipped to as low as 25th place just before the halfway point, but managed to rely on strategy plays to gather extra points in each of the three stage breaks. The plus side to having four-plus hours over 600 miles, Logano said, was the time to make significant adjustments to his Team Penske No. 22 Ford. The byproduct of 16 caution flags — the most at Charlotte since the 2005 running of the event — was more opportunities for pit-road visits to employ those handling tweaks.

“I think the track changed some, but we were off,” said Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief. “We took some pretty big swings at it. We finally got there for the last stage. Was proud of the effort everybody did. We cycled ourselves into stage points in each stage, even when I thought the chips were against us. It was a good effort by everybody, a blue-collar day, but we just needed a little better track position for that last restart.”

Logano’s effort marked his fourth top-five finish in the last six races, keeping him atop the series’ points standings. But Truex secured his third win in five races, and Logano suggested he’s learned a thing or two in his recent surge, leaving his only passing option in the outside lane. “He’s gotten better over the last few races to where I’ve got to change my moves up a little bit because he’s adjusted to him,” Logano said.

RELATED: Logano leads the way on stage points

Logano didn’t lead any of the 400 laps, but the brief, final green-flag stretch to the checkered flag provided an opening. But Truex emerged from the scramble of cars with a striking four-wide move, slightly hemming the defending series champ in. 

Logano applied plenty of pressure — literal and figurative — on Truex’s bumper, but the hopes for a first Coca-Cola 600 crown eventually lost their fizz.

“Man, if you’d told me earlier in the race we’d finish second, I’d say that’s a dream. But when you finish second and you see the lead that close, it hurts a little bit,” Logano said. “So, proud of the effort, proud of the never-quit, but dang it. …

“Overall, proud of the effort, though. It’s the Coke 600, though. It’s such a big one, and you want to win it so bad. Second stings. I thought we had a shot when that caution came back out and gave us another chance. Just didn’t quite get it. But overall, proud of it and as far as Memorial Day weekend, getting to race is a privilege. So for me to complain about second sounds pretty dumb. I should be proud to live in this country and happy that I just get to race.”