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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.”

Roger Penske to purchase IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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Roger Penske will soon own IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The development was revealed Monday morning by the track. The Board of Directors of Hulman & Company will announce later this morning the sale of the company and certain subsidiaries, including IndyCar, the historic speedway and IMS Productions to the Penske Entertainment Corp., a subsidiary of Penske Corporation.

The transaction will close following receipt of applicable government approvals and other standard conditions.

Roger Penske is the owner of Team Penske, which fields teams in IndyCar, NASCAR and IMSA.

Penske is the winningest owner in Indianapolis 500 history with 18 victories, including this year with Simon Pagenaud. He won the 2018 Brickyard 400 with Brad Keselowski.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of three tracks the Cup Series competes on that is owned independently from NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. The others are Pocono Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

“We recently approached Roger Penske and Penske Corporation about this opportunity and began working to put an agreement in place,” said Tony George, Chairman of Hulman & Company, in a press release. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the centerpiece and the cathedral of motorsports since 1909 and the Hulman-George family has proudly served as the steward of this great institution for more than 70 years. Now, we are honored to pass the torch to Roger Penske and Penske Corporation, as they become just the fourth owner of the iconic Speedway. There is no one more capable and qualified than Roger and his organization to lead the sport of IndyCar racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway into the future.”

Said Penske: “My passion for racing began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1951 when I attended the Indianapolis 500 with my father. We have so much respect and appreciation for the history and tradition of the Speedway and the sport of IndyCar racing. I want to thank Hulman & Company for the opportunity to build on this legacy and it will be an honor for Penske Corporation to help lead these great institutions forward into a new era.”

Said Mark Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company: “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race and the NTT IndyCar Series have enjoyed considerable growth over the past decade, with significant increases in television, digital and social media audiences combined with record attendance at many of our race venues. With their track record of business success, their venue, operation and event experience and their passion for motorsports, Roger Penske and Penske Corporation will help us take the IndyCar Series, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all of our properties to new heights. Everyone on our team looks forward to working with them to capitalize on the momentum that the Series and the Speedway have achieved.”

NASCAR released the following statement from Chairman and CEO Jim France.

“The Hulman-George family has been instrumental in the growth of motorsports through their passion for racing, elevating Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series to a global scale, and we thank them for their leadership and significant contributions to NASCAR. Roger Penske is incredibly accomplished across both motorsports and business and we look forward to the successful operation of these properties under his experienced leadership.”

Bump and Run: Will Kyle Busch make it to the championship race?

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Has your mind changed on if Kyle Busch will make it to the championship race after another subpar playoff performance?

Nate Ryan: It has in that — for the first time in the playoffs — he doesn’t seem a lead-pipe cinch to reach the title race. Being regular-season champion could afford Busch stumbles in the first two rounds with nary a concern, but the mediocre effort at Martinsville was stunning and leaves him vulnerable. He probably still gets through, but there surely is major focus within the No. 18 camp about buckling down at Texas and Phoenix.

Dustin Long: Not yet but there is some doubt creeping in. This has been a disappointing playoffs for the No. 18 team. Busch ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in stage points scored in the postseason. He ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in total points scored in the postseason. He ranks sixth among the eight remaining playoff drivers in average finish in the postseason. His best finish in the playoffs was second at Richmond, a race Joe Gibbs Racing dominated. Other than that, he’s had only one top-five finish in the playoffs. He’s simply not running better than his competition. Of course, if he can get to Miami, what he’s done in the playoffs doesn’t matters and it’s all about that one race.

Daniel McFadin: He’s on less sturdier ground than he was at the start of the playoffs, but Busch still has Phoenix ahead of him. Having won the last two visits there, he’s still a major threat.

Jerry Bonkowski: I still think Busch will point his way into the championship race, but if he has a bad outing Sunday at Texas, all bets are off that he’s a potential lock to make it to Miami.

Did NASCAR get it right in its punishment of one crew member in the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano altercation

Nate Ryan: Yes. Crew members never should be allowed to put their hands on opposing teams’ drivers unless in self-defense or to keep their own drivers out of imminent and serious danger. Sunday didn’t meet either threshold.

Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR needed to penalize the Team Penske crew member for tossing Denny Hamlin to the ground or it would have been a signal to all crew members that it’s OK to do such things to drivers. For all the talk about this being a team sport, the drivers are the show and they should be protected from being assaulted by opposing team members.

Daniel McFadin: I think it’s an adequate punishment that should get the message across to team members not to take it too far when wading into a pit road scuffle like in Martinsville.

Jerry Bonkowski: While Logano’s tire specialist, Dave Nichols Jr., was wrong in taking Denny Hamlin down to the ground, this was a much larger situation of unnecessary chaos between numerous members of both teams. It involved more than just Nichols. I think NASCAR should have penalized even more members from both teams, or at the very least, issued a very heavy financial penalty to both teams – maybe $100,000 each – for being involved in the skirmish and to prevent further similar situations.

 

Who would you take to win the title right now? Martin Truex Jr. or the field?

Nate Ryan:  The head says Truex. The heart says it’s still Denny Hamlin’s year.

Dustin Long: I picked Denny Hamlin at the beginning of the playoffs and will stick with that but Truex is making it harder to do so.

Daniel McFadin: I’m taking the field. My gut still tells me Denny Hamlin is the man to beat right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s hard to pick against Truex with a series-high seven wins, I’m going with the field – and specifically Denny Hamlin. I still think this is Hamlin’s year (and best chance) to win the championship. And if he falls short, he may ultimately go on to join several other NASCAR greats to never have won even one Cup championship. 

NASCAR suspends crew member one race for role in altercation

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NASCAR suspended Team Penske crew member Dave Nichols Jr. one race for his role in an altercation on pit road Sunday between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway.

Nichols, a tire specialist for Logano’s team, can be seen in the video above grabbing Hamlin from behind and throwing him down to the ground.

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Logano’s team, said that Nichols was trying to help separate Logano and Hamlin but did so too forcefully.

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers,” Gordon said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other.

“Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, explained Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio why a penalty might be issued in this case.

“You had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” O’Donnell said. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

The issue started after Logano hit the wall while running side-by-side with Hamlin late in Sunday’s race. Logano went to Hamlin to discuss the incident after the race and punctuated his conversation by shoving Hamlin and walking away, triggering the scuffle.

NASCAR met with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Gordon and Nichols after the race.

NASCAR hints at penalty for crew member who tossed Denny Hamlin to ground

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A NASCAR official hinted Monday that a penalty could be coming as early as today to the crew member who yanked Denny Hamlin to the ground during a confrontation between Hamlin and Joey Logano after Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR met after the race with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, and the unnamed Team Penske crew member who threw down Hamlin.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed the issue on “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

“As we always say, we know emotions are going to run high, especially at this time of the season,” O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The drivers, we don’t encourage it, but we know that they’re going to address each other after the race when they have an incident and you saw that happen.

“Then, unfortunately, instead of kind of breaking up a fight, I think what we saw was an aggressive move by a crew member, so we called the team into the hauler, including Todd Gordon. … I think in this case, you’ve got a crew member who was maybe trying to break it up but certainly an aggressive move that we viewed on our part and unfortunately we’ll probably have to take some action to address that later today or tomorrow.”

Gordon discussed what happened after the race Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and took some responsibility for the incident.

“I probably take some of the ownership myself to start with,” Gordon said. “Stopped Joey when he got out of the car and he’s frustrated. He got run up in the wall with 50 to go and was frustrated about it and justifiably so. I went back and rewatched it. He pretty much got put in the wall on a straightaway. There’s frustration with that.

“Stopped Joey at the car and said we just don’t need to handle that right now and let his emotions get down, and I thought they were at a point where he could go talk. Unfortunately, in the conversation there got to be a push (from Logano).

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers. We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. We’ve had the conversation internally, we want situations diffused and separated. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.

“See what NASCAR does that and where it goes. There weren’t any punches or anything pulled. Denny got pulled out there and got pulled down pretty hard. Apologized to Denny for that and how that was handled. Ultimately, I’ll put that one back on me to start with. I shouldn’t have let Joey down there to start with. I probably made a poor decision in letting him go down and talk. A little bit of that is on me and we’ll work forward from that. Understand Joey’s frustration. I think it’s genuine. What started the whole situation was what happened on the race track.  We can talk about what happens in short track racing and all, 50 to go to get pushed up into the wall side-by-side it’s going to frustrate you. I think if the roles were revered it’s probably frustrating as much the other way. … We’ll see what NASCAR does and we’ll adapt to whatever comes forward.”

This is the second consecutive weekend where drivers scuffled on pit road and crew members were involved. It happened after the Kansas Xfinity race the week before. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick scuffled and crew members converged. NASCAR issued no penalties.

“I think if you go back to Kansas, we spent a lot of time reviewing that video and in our mind, always a judgment call but different incident,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We didn’t see anybody really trying to escalate the situation.

“I think in this case (at Martinsville), you had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move. We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

Asked what kind of message NASCAR can send to crews about jumping into confrontations between drivers, O’Donnell said:

“I think we have. I think we’ve been consistent in our reaction and will be consistent here. This is a team sport and with any team sport, I think you’re going to take care of your quarterback so to speak and you see that.

“What we can do is when we need to do address this with a penalty we will. When we see drivers, or in this case, crew members in Kansas trying to break something up, we won’t react. It’s case-by-case, but it’s a passionate sport and there’s a lot on the line and sometimes emotions go a little too far and we’ve got to react.”