Some drivers just have a track figured out. Jimmie Johnson, on Sunday showed us why at the Monster Mile, etching his name into the record books as the winningest driver in track history.
On Saturday, it was Joey Logano, continuing his own form of Dover domination in the Nationwide Series. At Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 200, Logano visited Victory Lane for the fourth straight time at the one-mile oval, setting a new record at the track for NASCAR’s second-tier division. In doing so, he won his third race of the season in 13 starts, locking up Penske Racing’s 12th series win in 2013 in what’s been an impressive all-around performance. 11 of those victories have now come with the organization’s No. 22 team, driven by Brad Keselowski, Logano, AJ Allmendinger, and up-and-coming talent Ryan Blaney.
To say Logano’s win came easy would be inaccurate. However, as long as the strategy fell in his favor, he wasn’t going to be challenged and that’s exactly what happened. Early on, he and fellow Cup driver Kyle Busch sparred for the lead. But the decision to stay out after an early caution shuffled track position, causing Busch to get on a different fuel window than many of his rivals.
Had another caution flown during the race, Busch’s strategy might have worked out. Except one didn’t. Zero. One green-flag run, from lap 41 to 200 ended the race after two early yellows. If that sounds like an uncharacteristically long stretch, you’d be right. Not only was the 160-lap run the longest under green flag conditions the series has seen this year, it’s also the longest for the series at this track in its multi-decade history.
All told, Logano led 106 laps en route to his win, while Busch, who stayed ahead for 89 laps total, rebounded for an eighth-place finish after having to pit off sequence late in the going.
Unfortunately, Logano’s win may have an asterisk, with the No. 22 Ford failing post-race inspection because it was too low. Though that certainly won’t equal a victory taken away, it’ll result in some penalties for the driver and owner Roger Penske.
If, somehow, Logano’s win is taken away (and it’s not going to), Kyle Larson would be next in line. The rookie contender finished second, tying a career high though he was never really a factor to challenge up front. The same could be said for Kevin Harvick, Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler, who finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively. Austin Dillon, Parker Kligerman, Busch, Trevor Bayne and Mike Bliss rounded out the top 10.
Point leader Sam Hornish, Jr. could only manage a 17th-place finish, struggling at the Monster Mile after starting on the outside of the front row. That allowed his closest title contenders to catch up tremendously, most notably in Dillon’s case. The Richard Childress Racing driver gained a hefty amount of points on Hornish, pulling to within four of the lead. Regan Smith sits 42 back, while Sadler is 43 behind with five races remaining in 2013.
Johnny Davis Motorsports hasn’t had much to cheer about in 2013. The team has just one top 10 this season, a product of Mike Wallace’s seventh-place run at Talladega. Saturday’s result didn’t add anything to that tally, but Davis and Co. came extremely close, thanks to Landon Cassill. The mostly full-time driver of the team’s No. 4 climbed high in the running order due to a different pit strategy early on, then was able to keep his car there, running inside the top 10 and even the top 5 at certain points of the race. The team’s strong showing comes just a week removed from Kevin Lepage’s run in the car at Kentucky, during which the veteran was able to keep the car either on or near the lead lap most of the night. Cassill’s pit strategy resulted in a 19th-place finish, but he definitely turned some heads Saturday afternoon. Oskar Blues picked a solid team with which to associate at Charlotte later this month.
A front row start made Sam Hornish, Jr.‘s Dover race seem promising before it began, but… wow. After receiving a speeding penalty on pit road, Hornish lost the lead lap and never caught wind of it again. His 17th-place finish wasn’t awful; after all, at least he didn’t wreck or fail to finish. But with Austin Dillon so close, even a sub-top-15 result just isn’t going to cut it.
Brad Teague and Donnie Neuenberger are two of the series’ incredibly part-time drivers, running a small handful of races each season. As with any driver running such a minimal schedule, you’re gonna hope for the best, since you only get so many chances to strut your stuff. Alas, things didn’t go so well for either driver. Neuenberger, driving his second race of the season for Rick Ware Racing, pounded the inside wall on lap 37, knocking him out of the race, while Teague lasted 58 laps before being parked by NASCAR. He was lapped within seven laps of the start of the race, too. Not the best of days.
Underdog Performer of the Race: Landon Cassill was very close to getting this award, but in the end, the distinction belongs to Mike Bliss again. The TriStar Motorsports driver started sixth and stayed close to the front all day. He ended up driving his white, unsponsored No. 19 to a 10th-place finish, his second top 10 of the season. After all the hullabaloo over Cole Whitt’s showings with TriStar the last few weeks, it was good to see Bliss muscle his way to the front, too.
Start-and-parkers occupied nine of the 39 starting positions in Saturday’s race, taking home $134,369 in purse money.
Cup regulars won the race, scored three of the top-10 finishing positions, occupied five of the 39 starting positions and took home $116,041 in purse money.
Best Career Finishes: Kyle Larson (2nd, tie)
The Final Word
I watched this race live, went to work on another job and then came back to write this Breakdown once I knew the full results had been posted. It was at that point I discovered the news of Joey Logano’s car failing post-race inspection.
I’m curious as to what the Frontstretch readers think of this issue and what you think NASCAR’s response should be (not what it will be) in response. I’m torn; in one sense, having one’s car merely too low and nothing more hasn’t historically been a violation that merits a heavy-handed penalty. But at the same time, Logano won the race fairly soundly. Should winners be held to a higher standard, in the sense that they potentially get the win taken away regardless of the violation? Or is it an inescapable part of our sport?
Curious to hear your thoughts. See you next week!
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