Paul Wolfe

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Penalty report from Phoenix Raceway

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NASCAR announced Tuesday it has fined crew chief Paul Wolfe $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on the No. 22 of race winner Joey Logano’s Team Penske Ford Mustang following Sunday’s race in Phoenix.

No other penalties were assessed by NASCAR.

Bump and Run: West Coast swing takeaways

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What are your takeaways from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports is back. Paul Wolfe and Joey Logano are a winning combination. Joe Gibbs Racing needs to regroup but isn’t out of the ballgame by any stretch.

Dustin Long: How Goodyear’s ability to bring a tire that wears more is changing the game. Hendrick Motorsports’ performance. The speed of Martin Truex Jr.’s car and how he’ll be a factor once he avoids the various issues that plagued him. Harrison Burton’s performance in Xfinity, which included a win and three top fives during this swing.

Daniel McFadin: Despite Ford and Joey Logano winning two of the three races, it doesn’t feel like any team or manufacturer has an outright advantage over everyone else. The races at Phoenix and Auto Club had a distinct energy to them that they’ve lacked in general over the years. The season has a some momentum behind it, let’s hope it stays on track in Atlanta.

Jerry Bonkowski: First, we’re seeing Chevrolet teams starting to shake off the struggles of the new Camaro at Daytona and Las Vegas and are coming back to prominence quickly if Fontana and Phoenix are any indication. Second, Ford continues to show its mastery over Toyota and Chevy. This could be a huge season for Fords if the current trend continues. Lastly, Toyota is uncharacteristically struggling with little consistency between teams (other than perhaps Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin). 

 

Who scores their first career Cup win next: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer or someone else?

Nate Ryan: William Byron.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto. He will give the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup victory.

Daniel McFadin: William Byron. While DiBenedetto is the most experienced in Cup of the group, Byron has more time in quality equipment, from the Truck Series up through Cup. DiBenedetto hasn’t shown us a complete race in the No. 21 yet as he re-calibrates his talent and knowledge to what he has to work with.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question because all of the drivers listed have the ability, they just need some luck. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be Tyler Reddick. Even though he had a disappointing outing at Phoenix, he still has been the best-performing rookie in Cup this season and has even outshined his veteran teammate, Austin Dillon, at times. 

Do you think anyone will beat Kyle Busch to collect any of the bounties in the Truck Series this weekend at Atlanta?

Nate Ryan: No. Kyle Busch knows best when he says Kyle Larson is his main threat at Homestead-Miami Speedway a week later.

Dustin Long: No. Kyle Busch wins this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: My heart says yes, but my gut says no. Chase Elliott will be the primary challenger, but this will be his first Truck Series start since 2017. Meanwhile, Busch has won in five of his 11 Truck Series starts at Atlanta since 2005. Regardless, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Truck Series race not held on dirt or a road course since … let me get back to you on that.

Jerry Bonkowski: Unless Busch wrecks or suffers mechanical problems, I don’t believe anyone takes the bounty in Atlanta. Rather, I believe Kyle Larson has the best chance to do so the following week in Miami.

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

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

Long: Phoenix race proves tantalizing for title event

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Shortly after he held off Kevin Harvick for an overtime win, was showered in drinks by his team in victory lane and cheered by fans standing a few feet away, Joey Logano still remained as fast as his final restart.

So when asked if he could have rebounded from a pit road penalty and a broken jack that slowed another stop without the lower downforce package used Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, Logano’s answer came before the question could be fully asked.

“No way,” he told NBC Sports. “No way. Not in a million years. I could have never passed that many cars.”

Logano passed 82 cars on the way to his second Cup win of the season. Thirteen drivers — more than a third of the field — passed more cars than Logano on Sunday.

The numbers were not inflated by the field pitting under green. This was passing on the track, what the sport sought after many of last year’s races on shorter tracks failed to excite fans. Last year, no driver passed more than 76 cars in either Phoenix race with a higher downforce package. Sunday, 16 cars topped that number.

The lower downforce setup used Sunday, which included a spoiler 5.25 inches shorter than last year’s, combined with a tire that wore and the use of the traction compound builds anticipation for the championship race in November at this track.

“I feel like it was a different Phoenix race than what we’ve seen the past couple of years,” winning crew chief Paul Wolfe told NBC Sports. “The tire Goodyear brought had a lot of grip but new tires meant a lot, so it kind of changed the whole race strategy.”

Logano, fourth-place finisher Kyle Larson and seventh-place finisher Chase Elliott all came back from issues on pit road or ill-handling cars to score top-10 results.

“It seemed like the cars that had some issues … and would go to the back could drive back to the front a lot easier,”  Larson told NBC Sports. “The package was a lot better than last year’s short track stuff.”

Kyle Busch, not afraid to criticize a race package, was complimentary of the racing after his third-place finish.

“You could follow a helluva lot closer than you could before,” Busch told NBC Sports. “You could actually get into the corner behind a guy and roll up to his left rear and try to make him a little bit loose and try to make some moves on a guy.

“I didn’t get hindered by following people into the corners as near as bad as the other (package).”

There were a number of times when cars at the front ran close together and even had contact, something that was not as frequent last year at Phoenix. That led to more passing.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer, who finished fifth, and Aric Almirola, who placed eight, each passed a race-high 103 cars Sunday.

“I hope the downforce package sold well to the fans,” Bowyer told NBC Sports. “It certainly was a lot more of a handful and a lot harder to drive than it was last year.”

Drives like that because it allows talent to play a bigger role.

Even with the movement throughout the race, Logano admitted he wasn’t thinking about a victory when the jack broke during his final pit stop and Logano went from first to 18th on Lap 268 of the 316-lap race.

“Honestly, did I think a win was in the books? No,” he said. “I’m 18th, if I can get a top five that’s going to be pretty good. I got a lot of cars to pass in a short amount of time. Good restarts. Cautions at the right time and more cars pitted.”

After an overtime restart, Logano was celebrating and looking ahead to November.

Todd Gordon explains reason he called Ryan Blaney to pit road

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Crew chief Todd Gordon says he has a scar from Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a pit call he made in the 2017 race there. Sunday’s decision to pit Ryan Blaney from the lead cost Blaney the win and left Gordon with a deeper scar.

Instead of possibly winning, Blaney finished 11th.

Gordon spoke Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” about his pit call late in Sunday’s race.

Blaney led when the caution came out for Ross Chastain’s spin. It set up a two-lap shootout for the win. When pit road was opened, Blaney and Alex Bowman, running second, both peeled off the track, but Joey Logano, running third stayed out.

Logano was one of seven drivers who did not pit. He assumed the lead for the restart and went on to win the race

Here’s what Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about his decision to pit:

“You knew you were going to come back to a two-lap run. We had scanned down pit road and it sounded like most of the top 10 were coming for tires. I wish I had that one back. I wish we had left him out there and let him defend. … I thought if we could (restart on the) second row on four tires or third row on four tires, we’d be alright, but to (restart on the) sixth row on four tires and just that in debacle back there and four-wide, didn’t look like maybe (Erik Jones‘) spotter let him know he had two outside and got caught up in (the last-lap accident).”

Gordon said a similar situation at the end of the first stage in the 2017 race at Las Vegas lingered in his mind as he decided what to do Sunday on the final pit stop.

“I think in the situation, I was waffling,” Gordon told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When it first came out, I thought we would stay. The more we talked about it, the more we scanned people, I let the information we gathered from that point forward skew me to pit and looking at it, and you think about this race track and where we were and you’ve got less than a second of falloff (in the tires from the beginning of a run to the end), so we don’t have a ton of power. So being able to hook up the rear tires on a restart isn’t as detrimental as it used to be.

“I’ve got a scar that comes back to me from the 2017 spring race. There was a caution, we had 40 laps on tires and there was a caution with like eight (laps) to go in a stage. We were leading and I stayed out because I felt like we’d have guys stay out to score stage points. We were the only car to stay out. We ended up 14th I think in five laps there.

“That scar still stuck, but you have to identify that’s when we had more power, we had less downforce. Getting good restarts was tough because you could hook the power up to the rear tires. We don’t really have that now.

“With this intermediate package, we’ve got with less power and more downforce and more drag. In hindsight, probably I wish I had it to do over again and went with the original (decision). … Kudos to Joey and (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) to adapting the call. I think they were talking about coming in, but when Joey saw he could get the front row, I think he made a diversion to it and ultimately won the race that way. Had (I) to do it all over again, probably leave Ryan in a position to see whether he could go and secure and defend the lead we had.”

While there seemed to be some communication issues between Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe if to pit during that late caution, Logano said it wasn’t the case.

“We talked about this scenario, whether it’s at the end of a stage or end of the race,” Logano said. “If it comes down to it, can we get clean air, or at what point are we comfortable staying out?

“So Paul came over the radio and said, stick to the plan. I said, okay, I’ll stick to the plan. That was it. You know, ultimately it was a good call, obviously, and got us in position to have a good restart. I had a good push with Ricky (Stenhouse Jr.) behind me and had a good block on (William Byron) once I got the push.

“At that point, once you get that clean air, you’re in good shape. If I didn’t have a good restart and got swallowed up by the field, I’d have had the backup lights on pretty quick. But the call and then the execution to go together is what we needed to do.”

Said Wolfe about Logano not pitting at the end:

“It’s really about the clean air. If you can get clean air, it’s worth so much. The tires obviously were wearing some. Obviously that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit, obviously, from the lead. It seemed like … the left side (tire) wear was more accelerated than what we’ve seen in the past, and I think that was making guys favor wanting tires.

“But really still the falloff, if you look at the start of our run to the end, it wasn’t extreme, and in practice we were out there on older tires. When they have a chance to cool down, seemed to re‑fire and have decent speed.

“It’s kind of what we had talked about. If you can get to the front row and get that clean air, then it’s worth the gamble.

“Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. At that point I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart, the guys on tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. Just not enough time.”