NASCAR America: Joey Logano has strong Richmond run a year after last win

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A year after his win at Richmond Raceway was encumbered following an inspection violation, Joey Logano had one of his best races since.

And it came at the .75-mile track on Saturday.

Logano, one of two drivers (Kyle Busch) to finish in the top 10 in eight of the season’s nine races, won the first two stages of the 400-lap race and led 92 laps before finishing fourth. It matched his previous best result in the Daytona 500.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed Logano’s season so far and how the team is pursuing its first win in a year.

“They’re just not quite there yet,” Jarrett said. “They’re not where the Stewart-Haas Fords are at this point in time. Even though he got a better finish than they did, I just don’t think they have that speed that they’re looking for at this point. If he goes back and thinks (about) everything that took place after this race last year and where he is right now, I know he’s extremely excited about the prospects of the future and races to come for them.”

The fourth-place finish is the third top five for the No. 22 team this season. Logano heads to Talladega Superspeedway, where he has two wins and three top fives in his last five starts.

Watch the above video more on Logano and Chase Elliott.

Brad Keselowski to drive Rusty Wallace’s 1990 scheme in Southern 500

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Rusty Wallace is synonymous with driving the No. 2 for Roger Penske during his NASCAR Hall of Fame career.

But there was a time when Wallace was winning Cup races with a different numeral and a different team.

Brad Keselowski will pay tribute to that era of Wallace’s career in this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. After sporting Wallace’s famous “Midnight” scheme in the race last season, Keselowski will drive the scheme that preceded it.

The No. 2 Ford will resemble the No. 27 Miller Genuine Draft Pontiac that Wallace drove in 1990 for owner Raymond Beadle.

That year, Wallace won two races including the Coca-Cola 600. He finished the season sixth in the standings.

See the scheme below.

MORE: Kurt Busch’s Southern 500 paint scheme

Stewart-Haas Racing showing strength in numbers

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While Clint Bowyer is likely still celebrating Monday’s victory at Martinsville Speedway, consider this: Stewart-Haas Racing is a bump and a mile from having won five of the first six races this season with three different drivers.

Not since Kevin Harvick joined the organization in 2014 has Stewart-Haas Racing showed such strength and balance among all four of its teams. Previously, Harvick was the standout and the other three teams were far behind.

While Harvick remains the leader — he’s won three races this year — Bowyer has a victory and newcomer Aric Almirola nearly won the Daytona 500 before a last-lap bump while leading sent him into the wall. Harvick, Bowyer, Almirola and Kurt Busch each finished in the top 10 at Phoenix, making the first time SHR had placed all four cars in the top 10 in a race.

“I’ve been proud of the wins and the success we’ve had, but I’ve been more proud of the performance of all four cars so far this year,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing. “We’ve got to figure out how to continue to get our guys to work together and continue to make our stuff better.’’

That was last year when the transition from Chevrolet to Ford was more daunting that SHR imagined.

“Everybody has worked really hard in the off‑season, like every other team, but last year we were trying to figure out how to put motors in cars to make it to the racetrack, and that’s not a lie,’’ Zipadelli said. “I mean, it was that bad when we switched over to Ford. It was a lot of things that were a lot harder than we thought they were.

“This year as a group they’ve been able to work together, and they’ve been able to work on a lot of little details, and I think it’s shown in the performance to start the year.’’

The result is that SHR has four wins, six top-five finishes and 11 top-10 results before April. Last year, SHR won only three races.

SHR also has two drivers — Harvick and Bowyer — set for the playoffs with their victories and Almirola and Busch in the top 12 in points.

Tony Stewart said earlier this month that he saw a difference in the organization when the season began.

“I think we saw that even at Daytona this year, the way all four teams ran at Daytona,’’ Stewart said. “It just shows the strength of having four really good teammates that are giving four valid sets of information that they can all feed off of and work off of. It just seems like this group of these guys really work well together.’’

MOST WINS (after first six races of the year)

4 – Stewart-Haas Racing

1 – Furniture Row Racing

1 – Richard Childress Racing

MOST TOP-FIVE FINISHES

7 – Joe Gibbs Racing

6 – Stewart-Haas Racing

6 – Team Penske

5 – Furniture Row Racing

2 – Chip Ganassi Racing

MOST TOP-10 FINISHES

13 – Joe Gibbs Racing

13 – Team Penske

11 – Stewart-Haas Racing

5 – Furniture Row Racing

5 – Hendrick Motorsports

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte: Denny Hamlin showing ‘remarkable consistency’

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Things have been going relatively well for Denny Hamlin on the track in 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver enters this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway sixth in points. Through five races, he’s finished outside the top six once (17th, Las Vegas).

NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Nate Ryan discussed his season so far in addition to Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Letarte said Hamlin has displayed “remarkable consistency.”

“Denny Hamlin is in my mind a super star driver that I know I am guilty of leaving him out of super star conversations,” Letarte said.

Ryan pointed to mistakes on pit road that have prevented Hamlin from enjoying more success this season and in his career overall. His result at Las Vegas was the result of a speeding penalty.

“Five races this season, four pit mistakes,” Ryan said. “He overshot his box at Daytona, he did that at Fontana, he sped in the pits at Phoenix. While I think they’ve had speed, I think that team is still stumbling in the same ways it has in the past. Unless they correct that, I don’t know if they’re championship level yet.”

Hamlin heads to Martinsville where he has won a career-best five races.

Watch the above video more

 

Friday 5: Driver data could be the key to success in Phoenix

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NASCAR’s decision to provide teams with more driver data could make a bigger impact this weekend at ISM Raceway than any other race so far this season, Ryan Blaney says.

NASCAR decided before the season to make steering, braking, throttle and RPM information available to all teams. Such information had been on NASCAR’s RaceView and some teams had created programs to mine that information to study competitors.

The decision to share all that information upset some drivers, most notably Kyle Busch.

“I’ve spent 13 years in this sport to figure out how to drive a racecar, make it go fast, do the things I do to win races and championships,’’ Busch said last month. “Now you’re going to hand all that on a piece of paper to a young driver, they’re going to figure it out, as long as they know how to read it.

“They still have to do it, but at least they know what I’m doing.’’

ISM Raceway, formerly Phoenix Raceway, challenges drivers with how much they brake. That’s where driving traces from competitors can prove helpful.

“I think it might be a little bit more of a factor this weekend where you’re off the throttle a lot and you’re braking pretty heavy,’’ Blaney said of the driver data. “You can see what other people are doing braking technique wise.’’

Blaney said such information is more valuable at a high-braking track than where the series has raced so far this year.

“Vegas and Atlanta, you’re completely off the gas and you’re light braking, you’re not really having a bunch of pressure on that,’’ he said.

Blaney said he’s mainly focused on the data from teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, along with Paul Menard of the Wood Brothers, which has an alliance with Team Penske.

“I can learn a bunch from Brad, Joey and Paul,’’ Blaney said. “There is some stuff that Ford shares, too. I looked at Harvick’s stuff a little from Vegas, but, no, I have not looked at any of the Toyota or Chevy stuff, just haven’t done that. I think there will be a little bit more to gain if you do look at that stuff, other team’s stuff.’’

Of course, seeing how someone drives doesn’t mean another competitor can duplicate it. But every little bit of information can help a driver close the gap with a foe.

2. Learning the way

As 20-year-old rookie William Byron races champions twice his age and others with much more experience, his biggest challenge might not be his competition but himself.

“The biggest difference and the biggest thing you have to learn as a rookie is to trust yourself and not do anything different than what has gotten you here,” he said. 

“You’ve got to make sure you drive the race car the same, the same intensity and not shy away from communicating just because you have a bigger race team behind you or a lot more people listening. I think you just have to approach it like you are racing anything.”

It’s not been an easy start for a driver anointed by some to be one of the sport’s standard bearers for the next two decades. He was collected in a crash at the end of the opening stage in the Daytona 500 and finished 23rd. He quickly fell a lap down and was running outside the top 30 at Atlanta before rallying to finish 18th. He struggled at Las Vegas, finishing four laps behind the leaders in 27th.

He says he’s learning as he goes.

“My team gives me more information than I’ve ever had before in terms of actual data to look at or actual timing down pit road, pit road speeds, all of that stuff that we get access to, we use that right away,’’ Byron said. “I would say I use all those tools as much as I can to make sure that I’m closing that gap quicker. 

“We had one thing at Daytona that I was really low on the bar with and didn’t really do it, didn’t know how to do that and by the second week I was like one of the most consistent ones with it within my teammates.  I’m learning those things that you never get access to previous.”

What did he struggle with at Daytona?

“It was more just like doing things under caution like keeping the motor cool and just things like that to make sure that you are maximizing your performance,’’ he said. “It was just trying to make sure that I’m doing those things and make sure I’m utilizing caution periods as much as I can and things like that. That stuff is much more important in this series.”

3. Hall of Fame wait

The 20 nominees were announced this week for the 2019 Hall of Fame class. Jeff Gordon is among the five nominees added to the 15 holdovers.

While Gordon almost assuredly will be selected, there are others who have been waiting years for their chance at induction.

Among the current nominees, Ray Fox, an engine builder, car owner and official, was nominated a seventh consecutive year. Short track specialist Larry Phillips was nominated a sixth consecutive year. Buddy Baker was nominated a fifth consecutive year.

Red Byron holds the record for most nominations before being selected at nine. Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons each were inducted after their eighth consecutive nomination.

The average number of years the 45 inductees were nominated before being selected for the Hall is 3.4.

Nine people were inducted in the first year they were nominated. That includes the inaugural class of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.

The other four who were selected after their first nomination: Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty and Bill Elliott.

4. Leader of the pack

Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers combined to lead 895 laps last season. Already this season, the organization has led 464 laps in the first three races of the season, led by Kevin Harvick’s total of 395.

5. West Coast ringer

Kyle Larson’s third-place finish last weekend at Las Vegas marked his fourth consecutive top-three finish in the West Coast swing, dating back to last year. Larson finished second at Las Vegas and Phoenix on the West Coast swing before winning at Auto Club Speedway last year.

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