Joey Logano’s 2013 Nationwide Series season hasn’t been up to the decidedly high standards of the previous year, but with Kyle Busch running away with the trophy in many of Logano’s seven prior starts, a smaller win count was probably to be expected.
On Sunday at Chicagoland, there was no Busch in sight. No Keselowski. No Harvick. No driver running for Cup points at all, in fact — except Logano.
And boy, did he make the most of an opportunity.
Logano led 35 of 200 laps, including the final 15 circuits, en route to his second win of the season in Penske Racing’s No. 22. The win was his 20th in the series, a solid amount for a driver who made his series debut in 2008 and has never run a full Nationwide season.
To win, Logano had to fend off his Penske teammate Sam Hornish Jr., who was relegated to second. Despite the loss — plus an early speeding penalty that cost him the lead after pacing the field from the pole in the early going — Hornish emerged as the new points leader, taking the point back for the first time since Talladega, after which he lost the lead to Regan Smith.
Hornish had fought his way back up to the lead late in the going, but after a late caution (the race’s sixth) bunched up the field yet again, Logano surged to the front, showing muscle but also causing a dilemma in regards to whether or not a teammate should back off of another teammate who’s a major championship contender. More on that a little later.
Austin Dillon, who entered the race with the highest average finish at Chicagoland of any Nationwide driver entered, continued to put together strong results at the Illinois mile-and-a-halfer with a third-place run, earning him a $100,000 check for winning this leg of the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash.
A fourth-place run was what Elliott Sadler departed Chicagoland with, but it wasn’t necessarily indicative of his day as a whole. Sadler led the most laps in the race — 81 — and looked quite on his way to his first victory of the season before, like Hornish, a caution rendered the lead he had built useless.
Sadler’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Brian Vickers, finished fifth, with Parker Kligerman, Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Brad Sweet and Matt Crafton rounding out the top 10.
Regan Smith struggled much of the day but still brought home a decent 13th-place finish. Still, with his lead just five points over Hornish entering the event, he needed his closest competitor to stumble, when quite the opposite occurred. Now, he’s seven points back from Hornish for the championship, with Dillon just one point behind him for second.
The points race tightened even more following Chicagoland, which is definitely a diamond in the rough that is another Cup regular victory. Regan Smith didn’t have a bad day by any means, but an average day compared to great runs for Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon — including laps led — allowed the distance between the top three in points to fall to only eight points, with Hornish now the leader. A nice run for Elliott Sadler bumped him up to 20 points out of the lead, and Justin Allgaier’s only 22 points out. I know I keep hyping it every week, but I’m LOVING this points battle.
Good to see a Nationwide race go the advertised distance. Did you know that’s the first time the series ran the exact amount of laps it was supposed to run, no more and no less, since Michigan over a month ago? Three green-white-checkereds and a rain-shortened event followed. While extending the race distance is entertaining in moderation, it loses its novelty when it happens all the time. That considered, it was nice to have a race go the distance it was supposed to go.
Who knows if Joey Gase and Jimmy Means Racing were going to start-and-park or actually run the full race, but it’s definitely ambiguous because Gase’s No. 52 didn’t even make it a lap without the engine blowing. It’s an unfortunate day for any smaller team when such a part has a major issue, but having it happen basically before the race even really began is just cruel.
I hyped up the Truck regulars running the race because I figured, hey, these guys aren’t bad at Chicagoland and are with good teams. Matt Crafton, Joey Coulter and Dakoda Armstrong weren’t horrible per se, but the former wasn’t nearly as strong as he was in his series debut in Kentucky, while Coulter and Armstrong could only manage finishes of 14th and 15th. I think I especially expected more from Coulter, after running very well in his other start of the season — Talladega — before a late-race accident. I’m sure there will be other chances; I doubt this will be the last start of the year for any of them.
Seems like it’s not a race these days without Key Motorsports’ No. 40 having some kind of major issue, usually a blown motor. Sunday’s DNF for Reed Sorenson’s expired engine was its fifth of the season, plus another in practice. One has to wonder who’s at fault here — the team (which builds its own engines) or the driver?
Travis Pastrana started this season with three top-10 finishes in his first seven races, a fairly formidable mark for a series rookie. Since Talladega, at which he won the pole, he’s finished no better than 15th, with five finishes below 25th. Trevor Bayne, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, hasn’t exactly been lighting the racing world on fire either, but for someone driving for a high caliber team, these kind of results can’t go unnoticed for long.
Underdog Performer of the Race: It wasn’t a great day for underdogs in the series, but Mike Bliss was running second at one point in the race, had a heck of a save a short time later and still finished 19th, one lap down, despite some late-race issues. Not great, but things could have gone much, much worse.
Start-and-parkers occupied seven of the 40 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $94,785 in purse money.
Cup regulars won the race, scored one of the top 10 finishing positions, occupied one of the 40 starting positions and took home $85,615 in purse money.
The Final Word
I think this one’s simple, and I realize it’s an unlikely scenario, but say Sam Hornish Jr. loses the championship by a point, or ties but loses because of a tiebreaker. Roger Penske full-on wants to win this owners championship with the No. 22, but by throwing Cup guys in the car to win the races, isn’t he potentially taking away from the team that’s actually running for the championship people care about? Would he really be that happy about winning an owners title rather than putting a lot into the championship we’ll remember more than a year from now?
Am I off here? Let me know if I am. Just seems like a strange order of priorities. Regardless. a one-two finish for a team in any race is fairly solid.
©2000 - 2008 Kevin Rutherford and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!