Ryan: The stages of anger after a strong comeback? Joey Logano knows them too well

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MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Following a fourth-place finish that featured an impressive comeback from two laps down, Sunday night’s ride home from Martinsville Speedway was fairly miserable for Joey Logano.

“I was mad because we left so much on the table,” the Team Penske driver said Monday morning at his team’s shop, where he was promoting Verizon’s new Innovative Learning initiative. “God, I drove home angry about fourth after being two laps down. If it was last year, it’d be like, ‘Hell of a recovery! Awesome!’

“Now I’m sitting here thinking we left 10 to 15 points out there. It’s like, ‘Arrrgh!’ ”

While much of the focus from the STP 500 was on Kyle Busch’s loss of a playoff point because of a bump by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., no one’s fortunes have been more indicative of the importance of stage points than Logano. He has been an unwanted poster child for the renewed importance of running well throughout an event now that stage points are awarded to top 10 twice during every race.

Logano earned zero stage points Sunday because of a pit penalty (the jack man went over the wall too soon) in the first stage and a cut tire in the second.

He rebounded from the unscheduled green-flag pit stop (after running over debris) to motor to his third top five of the season, but it still felt hollow.

Fourth place paid him 33 points – or two more than 15th-place Jimmie Johnson and three more than Martin Truex Jr. in 16th.

Even more importantly is the significant gap to teammate and race winner Brad Keselowski (55 points), runner-up Kyle Busch (52) and third-place Chase Elliott (50).

“That’s how important it is to run up front throughout the whole race,” Logano said. “We’re getting something out of it at the end of the day (with a fourth), but we’ve got to be able to clean it up a little bit.”

From the season’s first stage – when a loose wheel on his No. 22 Ford forced him into another rally (for sixth) in the Daytona 500 – squandered points have been a storyline for Logano, whose team has proven to be as strong or better than last year’s runner-up to Johnson for the championship.

Though tied for the series lead with five top 10s in six races, he is ranked fifth in the standings – and the biggest consequences still could be lurking.

The stage points could impact his finish in the top 10 of the regular-season points standings, which will be rewarded with playoff points that will carry all the way through to the championship round.

One point can make a difference in the playoffs. Ask Busch, who advanced out of the first round in his title-winning 2015 season by that margin.

“You can’t leave (points) on the table,” Logano said. “That’s what we’ve done. When I look at this year, we’ve had something go wrong in every single race, and we’ve had to recover.

“If I just had a couple more points, that could make the difference of getting to (the championship round at Miami). And yes, we think about that. That’s why I said, ‘Yeah, we finished fourth. Good but not so good.’ ”

Perhaps not good at all when the playoffs roll around.

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NBCSports.com colleague Dustin Long dug up some interesting talk about what modifications could lie ahead for the 2017 All-Star Race. This will be the first under Monster Energy, which could portend some radical departures in the format of an event where the title sponsor usually has influence.

At the risk of paraphrasing myself, the feelings from this corner haven’t changed much since this column nearly three years ago.

Before determining what the All-Star Race should look like or where it should be held, there is a fundamental question that needs answering:

What should it be?

Is it intended to be a skills competition like other sports? Is it a glitzy showcase for the title sponsor? Is it an opportunity to highlight the personalities of NASCAR’s stars with their helmets off (hint, hint)?

Maybe it’s all of the above.

Regardless, these hopefully are the questions being considered as the Drivers Council, RTA, NASCAR and Monster shape the future of a race whose relevance has been under scrutiny for years.

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Taken statically, the news of the Xfinity/Truck series awards ceremony’s move to Charlotte might seem to have limited bearing.

But it could be a test run for the Charlotte Convention Center’s ballroom (which was built as an offshoot of funding the NASCAR Hall of Fame) as host of the Cup Awards Ceremony in the future.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau ponying up $17.5 million over seven years to help bring a second annual Cup race to Las Vegas Motor Speedway probably means an end after 2017 to a seven-figure subsidy from Vegas for the Cup Awards Ceremony (which has been held in the gambling mecca with help from the city since 2009).

It seems feasible that Charlotte could become the home for all of NASCAR’s national series awards ceremonies in 2018 – which actually makes a lot of sense.

We always will be partial to the Waldorf-Astoria and Christmastime in Manhattan as an ideal home for the awards ceremony. But Charlotte’s massive event space would be a fine place to resurrect the incomparably fun Waldorf afterparty, which once featured the Starlight Orchestra playing into the wee hours of Saturday morning every year.

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Though Martinsville’s new lights weren’t used last weekend, they will be turned on for the finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at the 0.526-mile oval, and speculation is natural about when a Cup race might be held at night on the short track.

Here’s a thought with Phoenix Raceway clamoring to change its early March date (which conflicts with spring training): Move another track into Las Vegas’ slot and start the West Coast Swing a week later, ending with Phoenix in Martinsville’s current spring slot. Then try a midweek night race at Martinsville in June or July.

By the way, don’t count on a night race necessarily bringing a sellout Martinsville, which seemed to have one of its weaker crowds Sunday despite beautiful weather and another highly entertaining 500-lap race.

So what’s the solution to lagging attendance at some tracks?

A humble suggestion (from someone who admittedly lacks expertise in economics or finance): Would cheaper tickets be an option?

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup