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?

ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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Love’s Travel Stops returns as Front Row Motorsports sponsor

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Front Row Motorsports and Love’s Travel Stops have extended their relationship into a sixth year, the team announced Monday.

The company will sponsor the No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell in 18 races, including the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

It will also be on the No. 34 for both races at Texas Motor Speedway, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“We look forward to kicking off another great season in Daytona with Front Row Motorsports and welcoming our new driver of the No. 34 Love’s Ford, Michael McDowell,” said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love’s Travel Stops, in a press release. “(Team owner) Bob Jenkins and (General Manager) Jerry Freeze continue to provide great value and flexibility in our partnership while working tirelessly to put a competitive car on the track each week. They also help create a unique race-day experience that allows our customers and employees to be a part of the Love’s race team.”

The team also announced McDowell, entering his first year with FRM, will be paired with crew chief Derrick Finley. The veteran crew chief has been with the team since 2011 and worked with David Ragan last season.

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New car buoys hopes for Chevrolet to avoid ‘unacceptable’ Cup result last year

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A Chevrolet executive calls it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car racing for the Cup championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway but says he expects Chevrolet to have “at least a car or two” in the title race this season with the new Camaro ZL1

Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, made the comments Sunday after a luncheon at the National Motorsports Press Association Convention.

Chevrolet had no Cup car finish higher than fifth (Chase Elliott) last year and did not score a win in the 10-race playoffs — Toyota won eight races and Ford two. Toyota won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

“If you look at the car count and just do a ratio of the car count, we were (seven) out of 16 going into the playoffs last year and to not have one make it in the final round was not good,’’ Suhy said.

“I expect us to have at least a car or two in the Final Four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.’’

Suhy and others at Chevrolet are buoyed by the Camaro ZL1 and look to repeat the success Toyota had last season (16 wins in 36 races) with its updated Camry.

Suhy said a key to the Camaro ZL1 is that Chevrolet engineers found ways to move more downforce from the front to the rear of the car.

“As teams make more downforce, they tend to make more and more front downforce, they don’t gain rear downforce as much,’’ Suhy said. “With the old car, as they made more and more front downforce, it got more and more aero loose, so it got harder to keep the car from being too loose and unstable going into the turns.’’

Suhy said that while there were some Chevrolets that were strong last season — Kyle Larson won four races to lead the manufacturer — many teams had a challenge with the setup.

“I would say the loose to relative looseness of the car didn’t feel as comfortable getting into the corners,’’ Suhy said of last year’s car. “So I think a lot of it is really about driver comfort and how they feel going 210 mph down the frontstretch at Michigan and lifting and turning left and having the confidence that the car is actually going to turn left and not lose the front end. I think those are the things this car will help feel more settled, more stable and less twitchy.’’

Any new car can have its struggles. Despite its dominance last year, Toyota won only two of the first 17 races before winning 14 of the final 19.

“I think some of the things that we’ve done with our car and what we’ve done since it was approved, working together with our teams and with the teams working separately, I’d like to think that we’re not going to struggle that badly that early,’’ Suhy said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re prepared. If we do struggle, it’s not because of the fundamental design of the car, it’s really just a matter of more time development needed. We’re ready to address that if needed.’’

Chevrolet enters this new era without its NASCAR program manager. Alba Colon joined Hendrick Motorsports earlier this month to oversee the team’s competition systems group. She was among those from Chevrolet at the track most weekends who worked with the teams.

Suhy said he’s temporarily filling Colon’s job, along with his other duties, until a replacement can be found. Suhy said the team that developed the car remains and that Kevin Bayless, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR Chassis and Aerodynamics Program Manager, will play a greater role. Bayless will be at the organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team test. 

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