Look at the box score, and you’ll think Joey Logano had a nice day.
He led 93 laps, earned a stage victory, 17 stage points and drove a car that, at times, seemed like the class of the field.
But once the No. 22 Team Penske Ford lost the lead (and clean air), the handling went away, and so did his championship chances. Quickly.
He fell one lap down to eventual race winner Denny Hamlin late in the final stage and ultimately finished ninth, falling short of advancing to the Championship 4.
“I have no idea,” Logano said when asked what happened to the handling of his car. “It went from a really good car to a car that couldn’t stay on the lead lap with changing tires, and a half pound of air. A lot of things don’t line up there, that doesn’t make much sense, the car shouldn’t do that. But it did.”
Logano noticed the change in his car instantly and knew he was in for a rough green flag stretch.
“It wasn’t five or six laps in that I realized I was quite a bit tighter than what I was,” he said. “I was relying on clean air and it just got tighter, tighter, tighter. Once you start abusing the right front with a car that’s tight, it just drops off in a hurry. It got to a point where I couldn’t even pass the lapped cars out there. Because I was one. I noticed it pretty quick, but there’s not much you can do about it when it’s green.”
Crew chief Todd Gordon kept Logano out as long as possible to try and score the free pass. But as green flag stops progressed, he had no choice but to call his driver in.
“Once we put tires on it, we got to where we could at least run competitive again, but we were so far back and I was running so hard trying to get to the No. 11 (Hamlin) that we just ended up using it up again,” he said. “Needed a caution at the right time and we didn’t get it, to try and get back up there.”
Even with 17 stage points gained throughout the first half of the race, finishing ahead of eventual runner-up Kyle Busch (as long as Hamlin won) was the only way Logano would advance.
But even on the final restart when Busch had a shot to rough Hamlin up, Logano knew it wasn’t going to happen as long as the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates were that: teammates.
“We did the first half of the race really well,” he joked. “We had a really fast car, scored a ton of stage points to the point where we could tie the No. 18 [Busch] to where all we had to do was finish in front of him, which was the goal, and it went bad from there.
“I don’t get it. Just wasn’t our year I guess. I don’t know what to say. You’re up there wishing someone gets up there and passes [Hamlin], but the No. 18 wasn’t going to pass him. He could have, but he wasn’t going to, obviously to have all their cars in. It is what it is, we move forward.”
The failure to advance means Logano will not get the chance to defend his championship.
“It stinks. It hurts,” he said. “It’s not what you fight all year for, to fight for fifth now. But we will, that’s what we’ll do next week, try to maximize our day again and end the season on a win.”
Sunday marked Logano’s fourth top-10 result of the playoffs (third in a row), but it wasn’t enough.
“We scratched and clawed and made a race out of it,” he said. “With a lot of adversity throughout these playoffs. We’ve had a pretty ugly run. Had some good cars and something’s happened every single race. It is what it is, it stinks, I don’t have the answer of what happened. I wish I did, I really want to know, but nobody has it right now.”
Conversation on social media during the race as well as post-race in the media bullpen surrounded the 2019 rules package that has objectively hindered the on-track product on shorter, flatter tracks.
Question from @bobpockrass on if cutting the spoiler for next season could have any impact on the racing at flat short tracks:
Kyle Busch: "Whoever gets the lead, bye bye." *waving hand*
— Davey Segal (@DaveyCenter) November 10, 2019
“Being in the lead has such an advantage,” he said. “These spoilers on the car — -you get behind another one and it’s tough. Real tough. That’s the reason why. I thought the race track got pretty wide […] you couldn’t overcome the advantage of clean air.”
Next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will go green on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3:30 p.m. on NBC.