(Photo: Randy Lanning)

Pace Laps: Joey Logano & Brandon Jones Victorious in Phoenix

NASCAR Cup Series: Joey Logano Takes 2 of 3 in West Coast Swing

Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe have proven they’re a duo that needs to be looked at already when discussing who may be a part of this year’s championship contenders. Sure, it may be early in the season, but it’s hard not to take a driver seriously when he already has two wins in four races, essentially locking him in the playoffs, barring a disastrous season where he drops outside the top 30 (read: not going to happen).

But perhaps what’s more important is that Sunday’s race gave everyone in the field an opportunity to get a feel for exactly what to expect in November for the championship race.

“Everybody learned something out there today just whether it’s racing, the way this traction compound is, the awesome sauce up there, how that worked out, played throughout the race,” Logano explained. “There’s a lot learned, for sure. We learned that this No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford team is just stout and is not going to get beat if we have the opportunity.”

Aside from Logano standing out, it’s important to note that Team Penske, as a whole, has shown its strength in this early part of the season. He crashed out of the Daytona 500 but Logano has since posted finishes of first, 12th and first in three races and currently sits second in points.

Meanwhile, after spinning in contact with Denny Hamlin early in the race, Brad Keselowski recovered to lead 82 laps on Sunday, and while he wasn’t at the front of the field (finished 11th) when the checkered flag flew, it’s an early indication of how the No. 2 team will handle adversity as the season wears on.

Ryan Blaney, on the other hand, got the words of the Keselowski/Hamlin tangle and retired just 65 laps in on Sunday. But a runner-up at Daytona, followed by 11th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and 19th at Auto Club Speedway still left him atop the point standings until the 37th on Sunday dropped him back to sixth.

Initially when Team Penske made the move to shuffle its crew chiefs, speculation was that it may take a few weeks for the dynamic to build, and if that’s what we’re seeing right now, the rest of the field needs to look out when they really have that locked down. – Beth Lunkenheimer

Xfinity Series: Brandon Jones Gives Toyota its 500th Win

Brandon Jones scored his second career win in Saturday afternoon’s LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway. The victory was also Toyota’s 500th since entering NASCAR’s national series.

“It’s been quite the journey. I remember our first win and that was with Travis Kvapil on July 31, 2004, at Michigan. But, I couldn’t tell you who our second win or arguably this win isn’t more important than our 499th or our 501st hopefully tomorrow. It is a special milestone and it’s a nice big round number. To think of how many drivers, team partners were a part of this. It’s been really special. We’re grateful to be here today celebrating such a nice round number.”

For Jones, it was particularly special with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in the field.

“These are two of arguably the best in the business,” Jones said when asked about beating Busch and Keselowski. “We just had the car to beat them today.  These guys did an incredible job. I told Jeff (Meendering, crew chief) kind of early in the race, ‘Man, I’m just lacking track position, that’s the only thing we’re lacking.’ The pit crew did a heck of a job and he said, ‘There you go, there’s your track position.’ It paid off at the end.

“Found the PJ1 kind of early on there and had a lot of grip this time for whatever reason. Used it pretty much the entire race. The bottom went away pretty much the last end of the race and it was obvious that the middle to top line was the best. Couldn’t believe the 54 (Kyle Busch) dove down to the bottom when there was no lapped traffic in front of us and I took advantage.

“This was a big day. We pulled away from the field by a good bit, had an amazing race car and I’m looking forward to many more here. I came into this race thinking Phoenix is maybe not my best track and we win the race. I’ve got a lot better tracks on the schedule and it’s going to look pretty good for us.”

It’s a bit of a confidence-booster for the 23-year-old, who entered this season with a different mindset, hoping to make the most of last year’s Big Three moving on to the Cup Series. He’s changed his mentality in how he studies ahead of race weekends and the thought that “if I’m not doing it, someone else is doing it.”

That mindset appears to be helping as he has finishes of fourth, sixth and first to go along with a DNF at Auto Club Speedway in a race where he led 73 laps after starting on the pole.

Harrison Burton ended up second, followed by Busch, who led a race-high 78 laps. Keselowski and Justin Haley rounded out the top five. – Beth Lunkenheimer

ARCA: Ty Gibbs Dominates in the Desert until Chandler Smith Passes on Final Restart

The desert has been great to Ty Gibbs and on Friday night, it looked like he would go back-to-back until a late-race caution involving Drew Dollar and Jesse Love. The caution resulted in a restart with two laps remaining. Chandler Smith had the lead on the final restart and blew away from the 18 and 25. Gibbs fell back and just couldn’t get past Michael Self, forcing him to settle for a third-place finish.

Despite watching the race win fall out of reach, Gibbs still handled himself with class after the race, with his shades on.

Self was feeling heartburn on Friday after a race filled with mechanical gremlins including getting spun early by the No. 12W of Lawless Alan. He managed to rebound and earn a second-place finish and leaves the desert with the points lead by 12 points over Hailie Deegan. Gibbs, Tanner Gray, and Zane Smith rounded out the top-five.

The ARCA Menards Series takes some time off and will return on April 19th at Salem Speedway. The ARCA Menards Series East returns to action Saturday night at Five Flags Speedway after a thrilling race at New Smyrna. That race will be streamed live via NBC Sports Gold’s TrackPass package. The ARCA Menards Series West returns on March 28th at Irwindale Speedway. – Christian Koelle

Sports Cars: Rick Ware Racing Goes To Plan B in IMSA

The original plan for Rick Ware Racing’s sports car racing division was to run the full Asian Le Mans Series, then race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s LMP2 class.  That fell through pretty quickly, but they’ll still race the Riley Mk. 30 at Le Mans at June as a result of Cody Ware earning the LMP2 Am class auto-invite.

DailySportsCar.com reported Friday that Rick Ware Racing will enter an Audi R8 LMS GT3 in the WeatherTech Sprint Cup.  This is the sprint race-only championship for the GT Daytona class that begins in April at Long Beach.

For now, it’s only known that Ware will be one of the drivers.  It’s unclear who will join Ware, but it is likely to be someone with a fair amount of experience.

While RWR has not officially announced this effort as of yet, Ware did tweet this shot of an Audi R8 LMS GT3 inside of the RWR shop in North Carolina on Friday.

The RWR effort will be the fourth WeatherTech Sprint Cup-specific entry.  They’ll join the recently announced Gradient Racing Acura, Compass Racing’s McLaren 720S GT3 and Wright Motorsports’ second Porsche. – Phil Allaway

 

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About Christian Koelle

Christian Koelle
Christian Koelle returns to Frontstretch in 2020 as the photo editor at Frontstretch. He will continue to contribute content in the ARCA Menards Series, Sioux Chief Challenge, and ARCA East & West Series. He is also engaged and will be getting married during the 2020 NASCAR off-season. His favorite tracks on the circuit include Barber Motorsports Park, Iowa Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, and Bristol Motor Speedway. During the season, Christian also spends time as a photographer with multiple other outlets shooting Monster Energy AMA Supercross, Minor League & Major League Baseball, and NCAA Football.

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