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.
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.
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.
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?