Michigan

Long: Even with wins, Joey Logano, Paul Wolfe still have work to do

Leave a comment

AVONDALE, Ariz. — One has to wonder when Joey Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe will begin to jell in their new partnership.

They’ve only won two of the four Cup races in their first season together.

Car owner Roger Penske’s decision to switch the driver/crew chief lineup for all three of his Cup teams in the offseason seems to be working about as well as possible.

Besides Logano’s wins, Ryan Blaney could have easily won the first three races and led the points until he was collected in a crash at Phoenix, and Brad Keselowski has three consecutive finishes of 11th or better.

Even with their early success, Logano and Wolfe both say there’s still much work to do to become a dominant team.

“We’ve done a good job executing races,” Logano told NBC Sports in victory lane after he went from 18th to first and led the final 24 laps to win. “Are we as fast as we want to be? No, not yet, but I think we’re a dangerous combination for sure.

“With (Wolfe’s) cars and being able to still be aggressive and do the things I need to do and have some long run speed on top of that, it has been a good combination for us. Nice to win a 550 (horsepower) and 750 race already. It shows we’re close, but we haven’t been the dominant car … in any race this year.”

Logano won at Las Vegas when the leaders pitted before the final restart. Logano, who was third at the time, stayed out, assumed the lead and won. At Phoenix, Logano overcame a pit road penalty and then lost the lead on his final pit stop when the jack broke, dropping him to 18th.

With the debut of the short track package, which included a much smaller spoiler than last season, a tire compound that wore out and the traction compound on the track, Logano was able to get to the front. What also helped was that he and Keselowski had similar setups. Wolfe, who had been Keselowski’s crew chief before this season, used elements of Keselowski’s setup from past years.

In a sign of how Logano and Wolfe continue to learn each other, Logano did not run make a mock qualifying run in practice on Friday. Wolfe said he wanted all the time in the two 50-minute practice sessions focused on “just trying to understand and learn where he wants to be with the setups under our car for race trim.”

Todd Gordon, who went from being Logano’s crew chief last season to be Blaney’s crew chief this season, noted the work that goes into learning a new driver. One such example came at Auto Club Speedway when Blaney had to pit from second place with three laps left because of a tire issue. Blaney finished 19th.

“It’s part of the learning curve that this whole team is going through with the change,” Gordon said recently on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We know each other pretty well but need to learn the little idiosyncrasies of what each driver’s driving style does, what we can and can’t be aggressive on.”

Auto Club Speedway also wasn’t a good race for Logano. He ran well until fading late and placing 12th.

“I’ll tell you what, I was sick to my stomach all week,” Wolfe told NBC Sports. “We didn’t have the performance I wanted at (Auto Club). Obviously (Blaney) was real strong at (Auto Club). We started the race strong but we got off course there. Really to finish 12th was not what we’re capable of where we should be. I didn’t sleep a lot.”

He felt much better after Sunday’s race at Phoenix.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

When Brandon Jones passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 20 laps to go and went on to win the Xfinity race at Phoenix last weekend, it marked the first time since June 2016 that Busch had been passed so late in a race for the win by a series regular.

Brandon Jones celebrates his Phoenix win. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The last time it happened was when Daniel Suarez passed Busch with two laps to go to win at Michigan.

Jones’ win was as much on the track as off. He went 134 series races before his first victory in October at Kansas. Jones needed only seven races to score his second Xfinity triumph. While there are a number of factors, Jones cites a greater worth ethic as among the keys.

“I kind of came into this year with a mindset of, ‘If I’m not doing it, someone else is doing it,’” the 23-year-old said. “That includes anything outside of this and it includes everything at the track and includes studying and everything. I’m exhausting myself doing it and at the same time, the reward is so big that it doesn’t matter to me. This is what it’s about.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has yet to talk to NASCAR about his penalty for passing below the yellow line in the Daytona 500 but plans to do so before next month’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR penalized Stenhouse, who was running in the top five at the time for going below the yellow line to pass Blaney. A replay showed that Blaney, who was leading the bottom lane, initially blocked Stenhouse but then Stenhouse went lower to make his move.

“I did not want to talk to (NASCAR) right after because I wasn’t really happy about it,” Stenhouse said this past weekend at Phoenix.

“I felt like my move at that point was go left or crash (Blaney), so I went left and gave myself extra room. We had already turned (William Byron) on accident, so I didn’t want to turn somebody else. I gave myself a ton of room and then I had (Kyle Busch) pushing me as well. Trying to give that spot back was kind of difficult.”

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Two teams placed all their cars in the top 10 Sunday at Phoenix. It marked the first time this season that any team had placed all its drivers in the top 10.

Stewart-Haas Racing had Kevin Harvick place second, Clint Bowyer finish fifth, Aric Almirola place eighth and rookie Cole Custer finish ninth.

“It means a ton, honestly,” Custer said of the top-10 finish. “It’s been pretty tough these first few races of the year. A lot of learning. It just kind of all came together this weekend.”

Chip Ganassi Racing had Kyle Larson finish fourth. Kurt Busch was sixth.

Chandler Smith set for eight Truck Series races with Kyle Busch Motorsports

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chandler Smith will run an eight-race schedule in the Truck Series this year for Kyle Busch Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 17, will begin his schedule in the No. 51 Toyota with the first two races in the Triple Truck Challenge, at Richmond Raceway (April 18) and Dover International Speedway (May 1).

Smith’s remaining schedule is Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 8) and then five of the seven playoff races: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Aug. 21), Bristol Motor Speedway (Sept. 17), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 25), Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 3) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

Smith made four starts for KBM last year, finishing in the top 10 in each one and earning three top fives.

Matt DiBenedetto: Second-place finish in Las Vegas ‘surreal’

Leave a comment

In only his second race as driver of the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford, Matt DiBenedetto had a shot at his first Cup Series win.

Instead, DiBenedetto settled for a second-place finish Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a result of a last-lap crash that froze the field and prevented him from taking a shot at race winner Joey Logano.

DiBenedetto, along with Logano, were among the drivers who stayed out of the pits before the final restart with two laps to go. They finished the race with 50-lap-old tires.

DiBenedetto matched his career-best finish in last year’s Bristol night race and earned the Wood Brothers’ best result since Paul Menard placed fifth at Michigan in 2018.

“This is all just too surreal,” DiBenedetto told Fox. “Tough to be that close, but, hey, this is only the second race of the season. So it was the strength of this team. It’s so cool to have the backing of all the people that allow me to drive this thing. It took so many people, Motorcraft, Quick Lane.

“To be driving this iconic car is so cool, Menards and Paul, I know you’re watching at home and proud and I can’t thank everyone in that whole family for this opportunity for it.”

Had DiBenedetto gotten a chance to battle Logano for the lead on the last lap and won, it would have been the Wood Brothers’ 100th Cup win.

“This team is phenomenal,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s no doubt about that. I was a little worried about our car, though. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day. We had to make huge adjustments and our communication was great from me screaming really loose and us being off to start and then dialing it in little by little every pit stop, and then getting it there at the end where I was comfortable staying out because I knew the car had great speed.

“It was best on the long runs and we just needed a little track position because we were a little stuck in the dirty air.”

Joey Logano wins Cup Series race at Las Vegas

1 Comment

Joey Logano won Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway under caution, beating Matt DiBenedetto after a wreck unfolded right as the field took the white flag.

Logano came out on top in what was supposed to be a two-lap shootout after he stayed out of the pits under caution after not understanding his crew chief’s instructions to pit.

He assumed the lead from teammate Ryan Blaney, who was directed to pit by his new crew chief, Todd Gordon.

“I should have left you out. My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad,” Gordon told Blaney over the radio after the race.

It is Logano’s second straight win in the race and it’s his first win with new crew chief Paul Wolfe. The race was their second together after an offseason crew chief swap by Team Penske. The win snapped a 22-race winless streak for Logano (Michigan, June 2019).

“I’m not really sure what I was supposed to do (under the final caution), but boy, we fought hard for this one today,” Logano told Fox. “Man, what a battle between Blaney and I and Chase Elliott and (Martin Turex Jr.) earlier in the race, and then to see this finish with Matt finishing second is great day for Wood Brothers and for Team Penske.

“Man, nothing like winning the Pennzoil 400 in front of this amazing crowd with this awesome yellow car right here in the front. Man, this is a huge win, and nice to kick off the season with a W.”

The top five was completed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson.

Logano’s No. 22 Ford and DiBenedetto’s No. 21 Ford each were on 50-lap tires at the end of the race. Stenhouse was on 44-lap tires.

Brad Keselowski, who finished seventh, was the highest placing driver among those who took fresh tires on the pit stop before the final restart.

The final run to the checkered flag was caused by a Ross Chastain spin with six laps to go. Chastain, who finished 27th, was driving in substitution for the injured Ryan Newman.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

More: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Matt DiBenedetto matched his best Cup finish and earned his first top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile track … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his best Las Vegas finish and JTG-Daugherty Racing’s first top five on a 1.5-mile track … Jimmie Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s Daytona race … Brad Keselowski earned his 10th straight top 10 at Las Vegas, the longest streak ever for the track … Ty Dillon placed 10th for his first top 10 on a 1.5-mile track.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Suarez finished four laps down in 30th after his car suffered a mechanical problem right as the field took the initial green flag. It continues an abysmal start to the year for Gaunt Bros Racing after Suarez failed to make the Daytona 500 … Rookie Christopher Bell placed 33rd after he spun and hit the backstretch wall with two laps left in the second stage … Chase Elliott won the first two stages, but finished 26th after his left-rear tire went down and he tagged the wall in Turn 1 in the middle of the final stage … Joe Gibbs Racing had an overall day to forget, with Kyle Busch its highest finishing driver in 15th. It’s the first time since the Charlotte Roval in 2018 that a Toyota didn’t finish in the top 10.

WHAT’S NEXT: Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET March 1 on Fox