It may have come a day late due to rain, but on Sunday in Charlotte. Joey Logano put on a dominating performance and stamped his name into the Eliminator Round to the chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Before Sunday, Logano had never won at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, although having the best average finish of all current drivers at the 1.5 mile oval. In route to his dominating performance Logano led 227 out of the 334 laps and much like last year won the opening race in the Contender Round of the Chase.
With this win the No. 22 team can rest easy and not depend on Talladega to advance their way into the next round unlike many of the other Chase teams.
“You always want to make it happen,” Logano said while discussing the win in NASCAR’s backyard. “This makes Talladega way easier. Last year we won Kansas when it was the first race of this round and now we are able to get it this time at Charlotte. It will help us sleep well for the next couple of weeks. This helps us recharge our batteries and come out swinging for the next.”
After the stout performance in Dover, Kevin Harvick came home in the second position. After leading 355 of the 400 laps at the Monster Mile, Harvick failed to lead a lap in Charlotte where he was the defending winner. Regardless of not leading a single lap, Harvick had a lot better start to the Contender Round of the Chase than the Challenger 16.
“We could hang with them but we would just loose him (Logano) every once in a while in traffic,” Harvick said of his second place finish. “It’s just extremely hard to pass. All in all, we weren’t very good all weekend and the guys just did a good job on pit road and made out car better throughout the day.”
Harvick is a former winner at Kansas and will look to have a solid run next weekend before heading to the worrisome Talladega on Oct. 25.
Prior to the race on Sunday, Martin Truex, Jr. was worried about his Chevrolet. Once the race began the No. 78 team stayed inside of the top 10 for the majority of the 500 miles. Truex picked up his best finish of third while being a part of the Chase.
“Just hard work and a never give up attitude,” Truex said of his third place finish on Sunday. “This morning, I was honestly really nervous going into the race thinking that we would be lucky to finish 15th with what he had in practice. This was a big hurdle. Now we go to our best track at Kansas. Talladega still looms and it makes us nervous.”
Denny Hamlin ran in the top five for the majority of the race at Charlotte and was the highest finishing of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas. After winning the last mile and a half track at Chicago, Hamlin looked forward in trying to advance to the Eliminator Round right off of the bat. With other drivers having poor finishes, Hamlin currently sits 11 points ahead of the cutoff position.
Hamlin is a former winner at the Kansas Speedway and will look to increase the amount of points that he is ahead of the bubble spot before going to Talladega.
The No. 41 of Kurt Busch rounded out the top five on Sunday in Charlotte. After just squeaking by the first round of the Chase due to a broken
“It was an impressive day because we had to work on strategy and manage our car that wasn’t performing well on restarts,” Busch said of his day at Charlotte. “It didn’t do anything perfect and it didn’t do anything terrible. There are some quality cars out here running in the Chase. If we keep doing our homework like this we’re going to have great days.”
The second Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Carl Edwards finished sixth. Other Chase drivers to finish inside of the top 10 were Jeff Gordon (eighth) and Brad Keselowski (ninth).
After Keselowski, the cutoff to the remaining Chase drivers was drastic on Sunday as many of the Chase competitors had trouble in the opening race that will keep them on their toes next weekend knowing what is ahead in Talladega.
Ryan Newman finished 15th at Charlotte. The No. 31 made contact with Matt Kenseth just past halfway on Lap 176. Newman came out of the incident with a little bit of damage to their championship hopes. On the other hand, it was the beginning of the end to Kenseth’s rough day.
The rear end suspension of the No. 20 shifted following the contact with the wall. Though he was managing a 20th-place effort, on Lap 240 things turned for the worse for Kenseth has he collided with the outside retaining wall again after blowing a right front tire. After sitting on the pole and leading the opening 73 laps, the No. 20 car finished in 42nd.
“Everything kind of snowballed,” Kenseth said of his rough day. “We were fast out front. We were tight in traffic and got behind in pitting when I missed the pit stall, that put us back there.”
“With Ryan (Newman), I honestly don’t know. He went up like I thought he was broke, so I went up through the middle. I thought that I left him plenty of room and the next thing I know I was pointed at the fence. After that we had the front end bent and finally blew a tire.”
The fourth JGR Toyota also had problems on Sunday. After running in the top five for the first 195 laps, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson were both making a move to get onto pit road. The two cars collided and caused a wreck on pit road. At the time, the No. 42 was running in second and the No. 18 was third. Busch finished a disappointing 20th after thinking he had a car that could win.
“I don’t know,” Busch said regarding the accident. “I just can’t say enough about my guys. They don’t deserve to be put in these situations year-in and year-out, but we are for some reason. It’s tough and we’re going to have to battle through with what we’ve got.”
After the No. 18 team tried to recover from the miscue on pit road, Justin Allgaier punctured a hole in his radiator on a restart that caused for oil to be put down onto the track. Busch slipped into the oil and hit the fence, which added to his day of misery.
“You can’t pass anybody, it’s a single lane race track. Then you put oil on the top lane to make anything happen and you put yourself in the fence. Every single year it goes the same way.”
The last championship contender is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In practice, the No. 88 team looked to have a car that could contend for a top-five finish. However, on Lap 75 Earnhardt blew a right front tire after making contact with the wall with a little help from the No. 19 of Edwards. From this point on the day was a downward spiral for the Hendrick Motorsports team as on Lap 191 they had another flat tire after slipping into the alluded oil that Busch spoke of. Earnhardt sits 19 points behind the cutoff of the Chase.
“Carl (Edwards) got a great run on me going down the front straightaway and just drove into the left rear quarterpannel,” Earnhardt said of his initial incident. “Then they didn’t clean up the oil and we hit the wall again. There was a lot of oil up there. I went around the speedy dry that they put up and I flew into the fence.