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?

Tonight’s Cup race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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Kyle Busch looks to win his third consecutive race of the season tonight at Richmond Raceway and become the second driver to accomplish that this season, matching what Kevin Harvick did earlier in the season.

Here is all the important information for the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Lauren Fulcher, Toyota car owner, will give the command to start engines for the Toyota Owners 400 at 6:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 6:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 400 laps (300 miles) around the .75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 1 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEMElliott Yamin will perform the anthem at 6:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race beginning at 6:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 5:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 64 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won the September race, finishing ahead of Joey Logano and Ryan Newman. Logano won this event a year ago (but his car failed inspection after the race). Brad Keselowski was second. Denny Hamlin placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Daniel Hemric “making the most” of first Cup start at Richmond

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Daniel Hemric made the rounds this week.

Hemric “talked to just about every car owner” he raced for in the last 22 years to thank them.

Without them, he wouldn’t be making his Cup debut tonight at Richmond Raceway.

The 27-year-old driver will start 22nd in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 8 Chevrolet. It caps a busy weekend as Hemric pulled double duty with his regular job driving the No. 21 for RCR in the Xfinity Series.

“I have a newfound respect for those guys who do double duty every week,” Hemric said Friday in the midst of a day filled with four practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and the Xfinity race, where he finished 29th following tire problems. “It’s been a lot to take in. It’s been a good time and a great problem to have trying to figure out how to get from one place to the next in the manner that you need to.”

Before qualifying, Hemric was 23rd fastest in the first practice session. He improved to eighth best in final practice.

The busy pace helped Hemric stay focused in his preparation for the most important race of his career so far.

“I think between getting in the Xfinity car and having time on the race track, and then just running straight over and getting in the Cup car has made the transition as easy as possible,” Hemric said Friday. “Think that’s helped to calm the nerves and staying busy has kept all that stuff kind of in-check as well. … It’s been a lot going on but it’s been fun.”

Hemric would consider it a “home run” if he ended the 400-lap race in the top 20.

“I think if we can do that as a group with only being a one-off race right here, obviously knowing we’re going to come back at it in the fall at (the Charlotte) road course, but it’s tough to do,” Hemric said. “It’s tough to bring guys out of the shop and know what the expectations are. That’s why I say we’ve got to take it a step at a time. That’s what we’ve done do far.”

Hemric is somewhat an oddity in modern NASCAR as he makes his first Cup start at the age of 27. He enters tonight’s race with 90 combined starts in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. He’s yet to win in either national series.

Despite not winning last year, he made it to the championship four last year in the Xfinity Series.

Cup driver Kyle Busch believes Hemric is “ready for the opportunity.”

“I think he’s done a really good job,” Busch said. “Maybe not has scored as many wins as he would have wanted to in Truck of Xfinity competition, but I think talent pool wise, I’ve seen him race in late models and I’ve seen what he can do in those things and he’s made a name for himself in being able to come up through these ranks and hasn’t caused chaos while doing it. He’s done it really, really clean. He’s raced his competitors as well as you can ask of anybody to race their competitors. I think the only thing lacking is just the win column, so I think Daniel is a great kid and look forward to seeing what he can do at the next level.”

Hemric said if he’d been asked two or three years if he would be about to make his Cup debut, he would have replied, “there ain’t no way.”

Hemric continued, “I’m going to continue to get older and I’m not sure how to put myself in any other better position than just making the most of that opportunity. … At the end of the day, nobody knows your story better than you know it.”

Hemric’s story includes one his RCR mechanics and former Legends racing owner selling his own Ford Mustang in order to keep his racing career going just before Hemric turned 15.

Hemric isn’t the only older driver getting their due this season. Last week, 27-year-old Ryan Preece won his second Xfinity race at Bristol. Next week, 37-year-old Timothy Peters will make his Cup debut after years of competing in the Truck Series.

“I saw where Jeff Burton told Ryan Preece last week that he won his first Cup race at 30 years old, so that gave me a little bit more confidence that I was on the right path,” Hemric said. “I never had a path or an age set for whenever I wanted to get there. I’ve just been fortunate to be able to continue that uphill climb and I know the trend is 17 or 18 years old; you’ve got to be in the top three series and doing it full-time. But I’m just doing it the way it’s provided to me and just trying to make the most of it.”

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Kyle Larson moving on from Bristol finish, looking to win again at Richmond

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After losing the lead with six laps to go and finishing second to Kyle Busch at Bristol, a frustrated Kyle Larson headed back to his motorhome.

He was greeted by son Owen, who had a question for him.

“Did you get me some Skittles?’ ‘’ Owen asked.

Even though the candy sponsors Busch, Larson admits he managed to smile at his son’s request.

‘That wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it kind of lightened the mood, so it helps to get over it a little bit,’’ Larson said Friday at Richmond Raceway.

The runner-up finish for Larson marked the third time he’s finished second to Busch in a Cup race (2014 Auto Club Speedway, 2017 New Hampshire and 2018 Bristol).

Larson enters this weekend having won the most recent race at Richmond. He took the lead from Martin Truex Jr. with five laps to go on pit road and held on in overtime to win in September.

“Typically this hasn’t been a good race track for me, but for whatever reason, the last time we were here we were about a top-three car all race long,’’ said Larson, who starts tonight’s race fifth. “Truex was really fast. But, I was a little bit lucky there at the end with a caution to beat him off pit road and get the win. I think that adds a little bit of confidence coming back here.

“Even though I’ve struggled in the past, I enjoy this track because it is different than what we typically go to.”

Larson enters the weekend with three top-three finishes this season, including the Bristol result.

“I feel like our short track program has become really competitive over the last few years,’’ he said. “Aside from Martinsville, I don’t even know if our package is good or bad there; I think I’m just not very good there. But, for us to get a couple top-two finishes here at Richmond now the last couple of years, at a track that I struggle a lot at, I think says a lot about our short track program. Even Bristol, I think Bristol is my best race track, but a few years ago I would just kind of run around eighth to 12th. But now lately, I’ve been able to lead the most laps and get close to wins.’’

Larson’s Bristol race also included a spin after contact with Ryan Newman but Larson doesn’t blame Newman for the incident.

“I get along with Newman,’’ Larson said. “The line that I run in (Turns) 3 and 4 throughout a run is really fast, but I can get myself in trouble if people poke their nose in on me. That’s the second time I’ve gotten spun by running that line, so I think I just need to be a little more cautious. I don’t think he did anything wrong there. It was getting somewhat toward the end of the race. You’re trying to race for lead-lap spots. So, I cut it a little too close, I think, and ran across his front end.”

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Results, point standings after Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell led a race-high 120 laps to win the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. It’s his second career Xfinity win.

Bell beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson, Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

Elliott Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Elliott Sadler continues to lead the point standings through eight races. He has a 29-point lead over Bell.

Completing the top five is Tyler Reddick (-31 points), Daniel Hemric (-38) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the point standings.