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May 22, 2024

Charlotte Turning Point: Is Joey Logano ‘back’? Has the Rowdy of old been awoken?


NASCAR Cup Series cars take the green flag to start the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.
Getty Images

Here’s what’s happening in the world of NASCAR with the All-Star Race in the rearview and the Coca-Cola 600 (Sun., 6 p.m. ET, FOX) right around the corner.

THE LINEUP ️

1️⃣ Joey Logano dominated North Wilkesboro — what does it mean?

2️⃣ Did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. awaken the beast that is Rowdy Busch?

3️⃣ Stacking Pennies: How long should officials let fights last?

4️⃣ Will Chase Elliott win his 300th start?

5️⃣ Catch the pack – news and notes from around the garage

joey logano does a burnout
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

1. Joey Logano dominated North Wilkesboro — what does it mean?

The two-time champion was looking for a spark to ignite the hunt for his third title and just might’ve gotten it with his All-Star Race win.

It wasn’t the beatdown that had everybody talking Monday morning, but Joey Logano sure put a hurtin’ on the rest of the field in Sunday’s showing of All-Star dominance at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

The No. 22 Team Penske driver turned in an all-time performance at the North Carolina short track, pacing the field for a record 199 of 200 laps en route to his second career All-Star Race win.

A laps led count of 199, you say? That is, coincidentally, the exact same amount of laps at the front of the field that Logano has to date this season — in the other 13 races. In fact, that’s all the laps led he’s had dating back to Talladega during last year’s playoffs.

So, with a $1 million payday and all the momentum right now, is the two-time champ … “back?”

Big time.

Sort of lost in the mix of last year’s enthralling postseason (along with more spotlight on his eventual 2023 champion teammate, Ryan Blaney) Logano’s slump really extends back to about the midway point of last year. In what was a title-defense season for him, the veteran won early in the year at Atlanta before treading water over the summer and completely petering out in the playoffs with just 48 total laps led across them — stemming from just one race (Talladega).

Generally speaking, despite all the attention on his atypically subpar 2024 stats, Logano has actually looked and performed much better than the results sheet shows, and certainly better than he did at the tail end of last season. If you’ll recall, Logano started on the front row in each of this season’s first three races and actually led multiple laps in seven of 2024’s first 10 races. While he hasn’t turned in a top 10 since Martinsville, you got the sense around then that the ship had been righted and a trip to Victory Lane was right around the corner.

It was indeed; it’s just that it came in an exhibition race. Still, he’d rather be the one holding the giant check in the air at North Wilkesboro than not, and this might’ve been just what the doctor ordered to really turn things around and push for a playoff spot.

All the pieces are still there, too. He’s still, you know, Joey Logano — a titan of the NASCAR Cup Series for going on two decades and one of just two active multi-time champions. Paul Wolfe is still calling the shots atop the pit box, and Logano is still driving a car brought to the track by Roger Penske. That’s always going to be a recipe for wins.

A driver with those resources and his level of skill and stock-car acumen isn’t down for long, and it feels completely evident that Logano will follow his former teammate Brad Keselowski’s footsteps and snap his points-paying-race winless streak much sooner than later.

Slumps happen, but they certainly don’t last forever when the driver is this talented and this driven, with the extensive track record and history of winning that Logano boasts.

We’re entering a portion of the season where he could really do some damage and click off not just one win, but a few in bunches.

Hope you weren’t too quick to write off Logano’s season as being toast, because this Sliced Bread is most definitely still rising.

kyle busch looks on
James Gilbert | Getty Images

2. Did Ricky Stenhouse Jr. awaken the beast that is Rowdy Busch?

Sunday’s North Wilkesboro brawl saw two drivers at their wits’ end come to blows — but could it spark a second-half resurgence for either?

At the halfway point of the regular season, teams and drivers generally know where they stand among the field; whether they’re going to be contenders or pretenders down the stretch run.

Sunday’s post-race scuffle after the 2024 All-Star Race involved a pair of NASCAR Cup Series veteran mainstays on the back nine of their respective careers yet each further away from “contender” status than they’d like to be.

RELATED: Stenhouse fined, crew members suspended after fight

Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s All-Star fight felt as much about what happened on Lap 2 of the exhibition contest, when contact between the two ended the No. 47 Chevrolet’s night early — on the track, at least — as it did the fact that it’s just been a frustrating period of stagnancy for each, at a time when they individually probably feel like they’re at the height of their respective talent levels. Instead, neither appears to have anything resembling a clear path to the 2024 title at the moment — for instance, Busch and Stenhouse have just 38 more points combined than series points leader Kyle Larson’s 486 total. No. 8 is currently in the projected playoff field, but as one of the “last four in” and certainly not in a comfortable position.

Needless to say, there was a lot of truth behind Busch’s exclamation of “I don’t give a [expletive]. I suck just as bad as you!”

But where do things head now? Setting aside any talk of retaliation, how does this shape each of their individual seasons the rest of the way?

Rowdy’s immediate start to his Richard Childress Racing tenure was excellent, turning in three wins in his first 15 races last year. It’s been nothing since but oscillating three-to-four-week stretches that either leave you scratching your head or claiming, “Oh, there he is. He’s back.” But still no wins.

It feels unlikely this trend will just continue per usual the rest of the way after what just transpired; this was either the low point of the season for the No. 8 team and it’s going to be a slog the rest of the way, or it’s the catalyst that saves its season and Busch fights for title No. 3.

Given what we’ve seen out of Rowdy for two decades now, you can assume the latter.

I’m not sure there’s another driver in the sport that can fuel themselves on pure emotion and alchemize the adrenaline to unlock a new level of driving talent like Busch can, and it’s possible we see vintage Rowdy band together with a supremely fired-up Richard Childress to figure out what hasn’t been working and fix it — immediately.

The Coca-Cola 600 has been one of the Las Vegas native’s best races in the past several years, finishing in the top 10 in each of the last seven runnings (all of which were in the top six), tying the all-time record for most consecutive top 10s in the race. He won the 2018 edition of NASCAR’s marathon crown jewel, leading 377 of 400 laps and sweeping every stage. His 1,061 laps led in the race rank third all time, too.

Wouldn’t it be the most Kyle-Busch-thing to just come out and stomp the field, reminding everybody this weekend why he’s NASCAR’s all-time winningest driver? That scenario feels like it’s extremely on the table despite his unsavory season to date.

Turning to Stenhouse, he could actually surprise some people this weekend as well. Coming off a 2023 playoff appearance, the Mississippi native probably wasn’t anticipating being outside the top 25 in points and essentially in need of a win before we hit June to make the playoffs, but there has to be some degree of optimism at the JTG Daugherty Racing shop, at least — he signed a multiyear extension with the team just three weeks ago.

Stenhouse has finished seventh in the last two Coca-Cola 600s, landing in the top 15 in seven of the previous eight runnings of the 600-mile endurance contest. Maybe he’s not a lock to compete for the win, but personally I wouldn’t rule out a driver that has been hanging around the front of the field that consistently — it’ll break his way eventually, you’d think — and the only guy in the field that once exclaimed “America, 1776, we are the champs!” after winning at Daytona on Fourth of July Weekend.

The Coca-Cola 600 is NASCAR’s most patriotic race, after all.

We’ll find out how it all shakes out this weekend under the lights at Charlotte Motor Speedway — and it’ll be interesting to see if any barbs are traded before then as everyone piles back into the track — but, man. This season just continues to deliver fresh story lines week after week and it’s likely over 600 miles that we’ll see some more jaw-dropping moments that’ll have everybody talking Monday morning yet again.

3. Stacking Pennies: How long should officials let fights last?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins ‘Stacking Pennies’ to talk about his All-Star fight at North Wilkesboro and how long fights should last.

4. Will Chase Elliott win his 300th start?

Amid one of his best seasons to date — and at one of his best tracks — No. 9 has a great shot to win start No. 300. See who has done it in the past.

DriverDateTrack
Brad Keselowski10/15/2017Talladega
Joey Logano4/30/2017Richmond
Denny Hamlin5/4/2014Talladega
Kyle Busch4/13/2013Texas
Kasey Kahne5/27/2012Charlotte (Coca-Cola 600)
Rusty Wallace11/14/1993Atlanta
Ned Jarrett6/6/1965Birmingham

5. Catch the pack — news and notes from around the garage

Charlotte Paint Scheme Preview: See the Coca-Cola 600 schemes

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