Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Sylvania 300 – Joey Logano Punches His Ticket While Others Punch the Wall

Key Moment – On the penultimate restart with 29 laps to go, Brad Keselowski started on the inside of leader Kevin Harvick. As they raced through turns one and two, Keselowski slipped up and made slight contact with Harvick, moving him up and out of the groove. Joey Logano pounced on the opportunity and swept to the inside at the exit of turn two and grabbed the lead, not relinquishing it for the rest of the race.

2014 Loudon II CUP Joey Logano wins CIA
Joey Logano out front at NHMS (Credit: CIA)

In a Nutshell – The Cup Series rolled into Loudon, New Hampshire and a demolition derby broke out. A quite tame first half of the race only saw two caution flags fly over the field but the second half saw 13 cautions slow the field, with a mere 91 laps contested under green flag conditions in the last 133. The Chase grid was thrown into a blender and spit out with nine drivers receiving damage during the 15 caution flags. The end result is 12 of the 16 drivers are within 32 points heading to the cut-off in Dover.

Dramatic Moment – The last 133 laps of the race was a non-stop dramatic moment when 13 caution flags led to 13 restarts during 126 laps of competition. Every restart saw cars all over the racetrack, with drivers taking risks that could be categorized as unnecessary but required because that is the only time people can make passes with this car. As a result, the Chase standings have been compressed, and all 14 drivers without a guaranteed spot in the next segment are realistically capable of racing their way into it.

What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler

Joey Logano was washed up when he left Joe Gibbs Racing. He came in under a bunch of fanfare but was thrust into the Cup Series before he was ready. He was picked up by Penske Racing at the behest of Brad Keselowski and has found new life behind the wheel. After three wins in the first five full-time seasons in Cup, he has garnered four trophies so far in 2014. He may not be the top favorite for the title, but he is most certainly in the conversation.

We’ve beaten this drum before but can we fix the competition caution please? It is thrown under the premise that the teams need to check tire wear thanks to the overnight rain. It is pretty hard to check the tire wear on the left side of the car if the teams only change right side tires. If the teams aren’t going to show concern for their own well-being and change all four tires, the series shouldn’t either. The other option is to let it be a true safety caution and let everyone change four tires and come back on the track in the same position they came in. Feeding the fans a spoonful of crap that it is for safety when most of the teams don’t check all four tires is a farce.

Many people were talking about the Chase drivers racing conservatively to try and protect their point positions. Throughout the day, the majority of the drivers in the Chase were two- and three-wide on restarts, and it resulted in no less than eight of the contenders having problems. The result is an extremely tight field near the cut-off for the next round of the Chase as they prepare to go to Dover for the final race in segment one.

The sport has become so choreographed that we’re now blowing smoke in the stands during the celebratory burnout. As Joey Logano came to the frontstretch and began his burnout, there were plumes of smoke billowing from the openings of the walkways in the stands on the front straight. Fireworks and confetti are one thing when celebrating victories but when we’re adding smoke to the burnouts we’ve gone a little too far.

NASCAR is going to release the 2015 rules package Tuesday morning. After a test at Michigan where the majority of the drivers raved about a package with less rear spoiler and ultimately less downforce, NASCAR is poised to announce a new technical manual that will attempt to reduce horsepower by 50-100 horses. Rather than attempting to make the cars stick to the ground less and force the drivers to use the brakes and their skill to make the corners, they’re going to come up with a car that will be slower on the straights. Assuming the aero package is the same, the cars will actually be faster through the corners and ultimately less likely to be able to pass. Listening to the drivers isn’t always the best idea when setting up the rules, but we’ve all seen a heavy downforce package, and the product it produces is a heaping pile of cow dung outside of restarts.

Cole Custer took the win in the Camping World Truck Series race at New Hampshire. Custer is 16 years, seven months and 28 days old. He breaks the record set last season by Erik Jones who won at Phoenix at 17 years and four months.

Reports surfaced this week that Farmers and Merchants Bank has filed a motion to take exclusive and immediate custody of Rockingham Speedway. They are reportedly owed $4.5 million by Rockingham Race Park LLC, a business co-owned by Andy Hillenberg and Bill Silas. They are also seeking a restraining order to bar Hillenberg and Silas from the property. It is a sad end to a valiant effort to revive the historic race track. The future is certainly up in the air and is most likely not going to include auto racing.

The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune

Denny Hamlin had horrible luck during Sunday’s event. It started with his fuel filler nozzle failing, preventing his gas man from loading fuel into his cell. The team went four laps down replacing the nozzle, burying the No. 11 deep in the field. As a result, when Cole Whitt, Martin Truex, Jr. and David Ragan wrecked in turn one, Hamlin lost control of his car coming into the scene and destroyed his right front. He went behind the wall and came back out 38 laps down. Hamlin was able to race his way from 41st to 37th after returning to the track thanks to the issues that befell David Stremme and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., in addition to moving ahead of Whitt and Ragan.

2014 Loudon II CUP Denny Hamlin crash damage CIA
Rough day for Denny Hamlin (Credit: CIA)

Jeff Gordon was about to stamp his ticket to a Sunday cruise to the second segment of the Chase with a top-5 finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with 10 laps to go. Unfortunately his right front tire went down, and he was relegated to a 26th-place finish. Gordon’s crew kept his car on the lead lap and he soldiered to the finish as the last car on the lap. Like Hamlin, that effort could ultimately prove to be the reason he makes it to the next round of the Chase.

Kurt Busch was racing in the top 15 for a large part of the race until, on the restart on lap 215, he made contact with his right front into the left rear of another car. The damage pushed his fender in on this tire and, on lap 223, resulted in the tire failing and Busch crashing hard into the wall in turn three. Busch finished the race running but 35 laps down in 36th place, one ahead of Hamlin. Similar to Hamlin’s crew’s efforts, getting Busch back on the track to gain that one point over Hamlin could mean the difference between making segment two of the Chase or not.

The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune

Aric Almirola started the race in 21st position. He was 26th, 24th and 21st in the three Cup practices and never looked like a threat for a strong finish leading up to Sunday’s race. He marched up through the field and was in the top 10 by lap 200 before stumbling back into the 20s. Over the final three restarts, he raced from 19th to sixth to chop a significant number of points off of the deficit he faced leaving Chicago. He’s not in position to race his way into the second round of the Chase.

Brad Keselowski was running in the top 3 when he got himself turned around and bumped into the wall on lap 194. He’d led the race, dropped back into the clutches of the peloton when he took four tires on the competition caution when most of the rest of the field had taken two, and was working his way back to the front. The incident with the wall, while crinkling the left rear quarter panel did no structural damage to the car. He restarted at the end of the lead lap and raced his way back to the lead a second time before stumbling during the final restart to a seventh-place finish. With a place secured in the next round, it wasn’t necessary for the No. 2 to make the effort to get back to the front, but it maintains their momentum as the first segment passes the midway point.

Kyle Busch was caught in the accordion when his teammate, Matt Kenseth, got loose under Jamie McMurray on lap 188. Busch received damage to the right front and hood of his car but did not make contact with any retaining walls and, like Keselowski, didn’t structurally damage the car. With a hundred or so pounds of bare bond on the right front Busch raced his way from 19th to eighth over the final two restarts to salvage a great finish out of what could have been a disaster.

Worth Noting

Joey Logano’s win was his seventh of his career. He has made 211 career starts in the Cup series.

Logano is tied for 64th on the all-time win list with A.J. Foyt, Darel Dieringer, Jamie McMurray, Jim Reed and Marshall Teague.

The win is Logano’s fourth of the season, second most among Cup drivers.

The victory is Logano’s second of his career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Kyle Larson’s runner-up finish was his first career top 2 at Loudon. It was also his second top 2 effort of the season. Larson was also the Rookie of the Race.

Kevin Harvick finished in third for his eighth top-3 finish of the season. It’s his third podium finish at New Hampshire of his career.

Aric Almirola’s top 10 was his seventh of the season. It is the most top 10s he’s had in a season in his career. He has 19 career top 10s with 13 of them coming in the last two years.

What’s the Points

The points matter now that the Chase to the Cup has begun. Up to three drivers can advance to the next round by winning races in this segment. The other drivers making up the 12 who make it to round two will do so on points. The 16 drivers in the Chase are listed below with their point total after round one of the Chase. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, by virtue of their wins at Chicago and New Hampshire, are already assured of moving on to segment two of the Chase.

  1. Brad Keselowski 2097
  2. Joey Logano 2096
  3. Kevin Harvick 2090
  4. Jimmie Johnson 2080
  5. Kyle Busch 2077
  6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2077
  7. Jeff Gordon 2070
  8. Matt Kenseth 2057
  9. Carl Edwards 2057
  10. AJ Allmendinger 2056
  11. Kasey Kahne 2055
  12. Ryan Newman 2055
  13. Denny Hamlin 2049
  14. Greg Biffle 2049
  15. Kurt Busch 2047
  16. Aric Almirola 2045

Overall Rating(On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – The first half of the New Hampshire race was nearly coma-inducing with two caution flags and one on-track pass for the lead. Most of the competition was single file other than the three laps after the start and the two restarts. After lap 170, all hell broke loose with 13 restarts and only two runs of more than eight laps all of the way to the finish. Cars were frequently three and up to six wide at one point on a restart, and paint was traded all of the way through the pack. Chaser or not, everyone on the track was going for all they could because they know, with the current package they have to make what they can on restarts. Manufactured or not, the excitement level was high and it was refreshing to see the drivers in the Chase racing rather than points racing. As a result we’re giving this one four cold Granite Ledge Stouts from Canterbury Aleworks.

Next Up

The end of segment one of the 2014 Chase will unfold at Dover International Speedway next Sunday. With 16th place only 12 points out of the top 12, anything could and probably will happen when the laps wind down. The coverage starts at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and NASCAR SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

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babydufus

This column is a mere shadow of what it used to be. Mike, I’ve really tried to like you. But you just are not measuring up, it’s not about filling in the blanks. Matt was an opinionated journalist with a heart, a quick wit and a sense of what racing should be. He was not a “blogger.” I get the sense that you are on a soapbox, one that I can’t relate to or even understand. Maybe it’s me and it’s time for me to go too. ta.

JohnQ

Mike pretty much sticks to the NASCAR script when writing his column.

kb

You make it seem like Harvick dominated, imo.

I would have to say that your statement made Logano look like he “lucked” into the winner’s circle without mentioning how many absurd restarts he came out triumphant on. Kinda a slap in the face.for his hard earned effort. Methinks you believe the Harvick “whine” fest. I am sure the former Firesuit wearing family member will “tweet” something totally different in defense of her man, but the actual race tells the story. Congrats Team Penske.

rg72

Let’s not confuse entertaining with great. Great was last week with Brad’s pass through the middle and the side-by-side battle between Larson and Gordon. New Hampshire was entertaining in a six turnover NFL game kind of way.
Other than Gordon, the other Chase drivers involved in misfortune were never serious contenders anyway. That’s what happens when being in the Chase is not really very exclusive company and the “Nations” are supposed to freak out when their driver gets in trouble. Basically a bunch of .500 teams trying to squeeze into a couple spots. I can’t wait for when the Chase is expanded to 24 or maybe even 32 drivers.
If I’m not mistaken, the caution fest started with one of those debris cautions around lap 170 where I don’t think we actually saw anything.

Bill B

Well, that race was interesting to watch because it seemed like pure chaos. I agree with the competition caution, complete BS as it currently stands. I agree, if they are that worried about tire wear and not just wanting to make sure no one gets lapped early, then make it a true safety caution – everyone changes four tires and comes back out in the same position – otherwise just let them race.

I thought the same thing as rg72 “If I’m not mistaken, the caution fest started with one of those debris cautions around lap 170 where I don’t think we actually saw anything.” giving me the impression that NASCAR kept bunching them up until all hell broke loose.

I’ll give that race 4 warm ones because, like I said, it was interesting to watch. Still, it was too much like a comedy of errors and bordered on insanity which is not something that I’d like to see every week.

rg72

I missed the Competition Caution part of the recap when I read this article. It seems every other race has one now, at least the ones officially declared . The one yesterday really caught my attention. Here we schedule these races to start after 2:00 in the fall at a track with no lights and then the race is artificially stopped. NASCAR caught a break that didn’t rain, given they scheduled this race with about a 4 and 1/2 hour window of daylight.

Kevin in SoCal

Technically yesterday was still summer. Today is the first day of fall.

janice

didn’t watch much of it. when i flipped back to race with about 100 laps to go, seemed like every time i flipped to espn it was a caution. i just had enough of the talking, talking, talking……i guess i’m going to have to watch races with the volume muted cause this constant chase bracket stuff is getting on my nerves.

see were princess had top 20 finish.

guess pre-race story this coming week will be johnson’s dominance at dover.

Carl D.

I don’t dislike all of the announcers. What I’d like is a mute button with voice recognition… that way I could listen to the announcers I like, and I’d never have to listen to Rusty Wallace’s ceaseless chatter ever again.

Chris

I think there should be a new drinking game that involves taking a drink every time an announcer or pit road reporter says the phrase “Sunoco Race Fuel”.

rascalmanny

So Nascar is blowing smoke now? LOL. Gimmicks anyone? How long before we see girls in bikinis? Bring that back to victory lane.

Bill B

Now there’s an idea!!!

Aaron Baird

The Cup cars will have a tapered spacer like the NNS series. The size is yet to be determined, but will drop about 100HP. The rumor is the soft tires/ lower downforce is one more year away (2016) because Goodyear has a warehouse full of tires for 2015. Next generation of engines (DOHC) is scheduled for 2017.

thomas32565

Always enjoy your Monday recaps Mike! Seemed kind of peculiar to me that the previous poster would take exception to you possibly being on a soapbox and also professing to be a fan of the previous writer of this column. Maybe it is more a soapbox preference.

JohnQ

The debris nobody sees and calamity cautions to bunch up the field for wreckfests is more akin to wrasslin or county fair stunt shows then professional racing. Supposed professionals without the ability to drive two whole laps without bouncing off each other. I thought it would never end. Engineered outcomes and special effects racing, that is what is going to bring in all those elusive new fans? I’m betting not. Let’s call it the Chase for Disgrace. Boooooo.

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