In the space of one pit stop, Joey Logano’s car went from a frontrunner to a backmarker, with no reasonable explanation.
The abrupt deterioration of the handling of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford hastened the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s exit from the lead lap in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway and ultimately from this year’s title picture.
Logano won the second stage of Sunday’s Round of 8 elimination race, but after a pit stop during the stage break, the No. 22 Mustang tightened up to the extreme. After race winner Denny Hamlin passed him for the lead on Lap 177, Logano faded to 11th and fell a lap down to Hamlin on Lap 238 of 312.
Logano finished ninth, seven points behind runner-up Kyle Busch and seven points out of the Championship 4, thanks to Hamlin’s clutch victory.
“I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well, and from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can't stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I've ever driven,” Logano said ruefully after the race. “I don't really understand it. It doesn't make any sense.
“You change tires and change a half pound of air, that sounds ridiculous. It is what it is. Just wasn't our year to make it, I guess. But we'll fight for fifth, I guess, in points for this year, and we'll move on. It stinks. It hurts a little bit, but we'll live.
“Everything is going to be OK. Life is a lot worse in other ways for some. We're still fortunate to be here and get to do what we love. It's a bummer, for sure. It doesn't take anything away from that, but it's just part of the game sometimes.”
CHASE ELLIOTT’S ALL-OR-NOTHING BID ENDS WITH MID-RACE CRASH
Chase Elliott had to win Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway to advance to the Nov. 17 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and for the first two stages of the event, it appeared Elliott might have the car to get the job done.
After moving into second place during a restart on Lap 73, Elliott battled eventual race winner Hamlin during a protracted stretch of the race’s second stage. But seven laps after the restart for the final segment of the race, Elliott blew a left-rear tire and rocketed into the Turn 1 wall, destroying the rear of his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Elliott finished 39th and will have to wait until 2020 to try for the championship again.
“Yeah, it's just a continuation of our first two weeks, unfortunately,” said Elliott, who finished 36th at Martinsville and 32nd at Texas in the previous two Round of 8 races. “I hate it for our NAPA group. We had a decent NAPA Chevy today. It was really tough in traffic to catch guys and then pass and what not.
“But I feel like we were in a good position to run solid. I'm not sure why we had a tire go down. I think that's what happened, at least; it seemed like it. It's unfortunate. Like I said, these last three weeks have been pretty rough. So hopefully Homestead goes better, and we can get prepared good for next season and get a good notebook for next year.”
RYAN BLANEY RUNS STRONG AT ISM RACEWAY—BUT NOT STRONG ENOUGH
Needing to make up a 23-point deficit to qualify for the Championship 4, Ryan Blaney started 10th in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500, last among Playoff contenders.
Blaney’s car improved throughout the race, and he finished third behind Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, but with Hamlin winning the race and Busch also advancing to the final race, Blaney was knocked out of contention.
Blaney had a chance to win when the race went to a restart with three laps to go, but Blaney started second on the inside, with Hamlin taking the top lane.
“I felt like I got an OK start,” Blaney said. “It's really hard for the guy on the bottom on the front row to accelerate and turn down the hill. It's the way (the track) is shaped. It's kind of tough, especially in Turn 2. But I don't know, you can always get a better start, right?
“I thought I got an OK start, but the 18 (Busch) got a better one and got inside of me, and, honestly, the top is so dominant, especially if you're on two, you're kind of just sliding up from the bottom, and he (Hamlin) was obviously the best car all day. Just needed the lead and I might have been able to pinch him through 1 and 2, and you never know. But it's not enough.”