Mysterious adjustment ruins Joey Logano’s shot at defending title

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Ending an “ugly” playoff run in which his team battled through numerous problems, Joey Logano finally ran into a mysterious malady he couldn’t overcome Sunday at ISM Raceway.

After winning the second stage and putting himself in a strong position to advance to the championship round and defend his 2018 title, Logano faded to a ninth-place finish and was eliminated from the playoffs (finishing seven points behind runner-up Kyle Busch for the final transfer slot).

Logano led 93 of the first 176 laps – sometimes by several seconds – until it inexplicably all fell apart. After Chase Elliott crashed on Lap 166, Logano pitted for four tires and restarted in first on Lap 174. He knew something was wrong almost immediately.

“I couldn’t pass the lapped cars out there because I was one,” he said.

Denny Hamlin took the lead four laps later from Logano, who dropped like a rock over the course of the longest green-flag run in the race. At a 1-mile track where laps take a little less than 30 seconds, Logano fell to 11th and a lap down to Hamlin 60 laps later.

What happened?

“I have no idea,” Logano said. “It went from a really good car to a car that couldn’t stay on the lead lap with changing tires and a half-pound of air. A lot of things don’t line up there. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Crew chief Todd Gordon told NBCSports.com that he merely removed a half-pound of air pressure from the right rear of the No. 22 Ford.

“I really struggle to say that a half-pound of air pressure that we changed in one tire makes that much of a difference,” he said.

A bad set of tires?

“I hesitate to speculate,” Gordon said. “There was nothing in the tires coming off the car pressure-wise or wear-wise or anything visual that stood out. I won’t rule anything out, but I won’t point my finger at anything, either, because I would say us as a program, I would really hesitate to say that anytime I’ve felt like I had a bad set of tires.

“Maybe this was, but I don’t know how you do that. It didn’t vibrate. It didn’t wear funny. Something happened, we got tight. I took air out of the right rear. That should make you a little tighter, but I wouldn’t have thought to the extent that we got.”

Gordon reversed the changes during a pit stop under green on Lap 246, and Logano immediately began running laps again on pace with Hamlin, who won to advance to the title round.

“I don’t know what to diagnose,” Gordon said when asked if the car would be scrutinized upon returning Tuesday to Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, North Carolina. “We fired back off on another set with air back in it, and I thought ran better laps than the leader did, so maybe you speculate that just that was the wrong direction on air pressure.

“But really surprising to make that small of an adjustment and have a car go from being a stage-winning car to being a lap down. … I’m really proud of the effort everybody put in, because I think outside of that one run, we were the second-best car today.”

It was a perplexing turn in a race that had gone off flawlessly for Logano until that point. After starting second, he passed Hamlin off Turn 2 with an impressive move on the outside of a Lap 83 restart. He had gained 17 stage points, ensuring that he needed only to finish ahead of Kyle Busch to advance.

“It stinks,” Logano said. “We did the first half of the race really well, we had a fast car, and it went bad from there.  I don’t get it, but it just wasn’t our year, I guess.”

These playoffs have been treacherous for Logano, who had one top five in nine races (a fourth at Texas Motor Speedway) and battled through the adversity of axle failures (Dover International Speedway), crashes (Talladega, Kansas, Martinsville) and ill-handling cars (Richmond).

“Yeah, we did not execute well,” Gordon said. “We had damage in multiple races that we had to work back from. Those are things that I’m proud of the effort everybody put in, and the fact that we didn’t have a pretty playoffs, and we still got ourselves to the point where we were one car out.”

Because he netted 30 playoff points during a solid regular season, Logano still nearly reached the championship round for the fourth time.

“We scratched and clawed and made a race out of it with a lot of adversity throughout these playoffs,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty ugly run.  We’ve had some good cars, but something has happened every single race, so it is what it is.

“I don’t have the answer of what happened.  I wish I did.  I really want to know, but no one has it right now.”

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”