Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Joey Logano is NASCAR’s lightning rod but could be its next superstar

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He has angered Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, frustrated Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch and pissed off Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch.

And that’s not the complete list of those who have been upset with Joey Logano at one point or another.

Add Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and Tony Gibson to that list. Also, don’t forget Greg Biffle and Robby Gordon. And if you want to go further back, add Peyton Sellers’ name.

Logano’s career features a trail of heated exchanges, threats from competitors and a few wrecked cars. While not always blameless, that doesn’t make Logano the devil either. 

Sunday’s altercation with Kyle Busch after the NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway adds another element to Logano’s legacy but begs a question: Why is Logano such a lightning rod to his competitors?

Critics already have their answer.

It often is not as simple as one wants to make it, though.

Logano finds himself in such situations because he’s often running at the front late in races. He and Jimmie Johnson each have won the most races (14) since 2014. Logano also has a Daytona 500 win during that time. 

 It’s easy to say that Johnson hasn’t had as many incidents with competitors and look at his success. That is a fair point, but not everyone races the same way. Logano exudes a different style. An old-school style.

“He’s almost two generations late to his style of driving,’’ NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said about Logano. “It’s almost like he should have come along in the late ’70s, ’80s or ’90s. You just don’t see that many people this day and time get out and race the way he does.’’

“He doesn’t mind taking it to the edge. He’s going to do everything he can do to try to get around you. They didn’t have to implement the new rules to make him drive hard. He’s been that one that does that. When you do that, and probably because of situations, he might get raced harder than other people get raced in those situations, but he’s not backing down.’’

Look at the high-profile incidents in which Logano has been involved. He was racing for the lead or near it in each.

Sunday’s duel with Kyle Busch was for fourth place when they raced down the backstretch on the last lap. Busch, bloodied in the scuffle on pit road, later said: “He’s going to get it.’’ Of course, that overlooks the contact Busch initiated on the backstretch that sent his former teammate offline and eventually into Busch’s car.

Logano and Hamlin made contact racing for the win on the last lap at Auto Club Speedway in 2013. That came a week after an incident at Bristol between the two former teammates.

Logano angered Martin Truex Jr. last year at Auto Club Speedway as they raced for fourth with 50 laps left. Said Truex afterward: “I’m going to race him differently from now on.’’

Kurt Busch was upset with Logano after last July’s Daytona race when contact from Logano caused him to spin on the last lap as he ran second.

And there was the duel with Matt Kenseth in 2015 as they raced for the lead at Kansas five laps from the scheduled end. After having been blocked earlier, Logano made contact from behind. Kenseth wrecked. A few weeks later, Kenseth exacted revenge by wrecking Logano at Martinsville.

 “He ran me hard,’’ Logano said of Kenseth after his Kansas win. “I ran him hard back. That’s just the type of driver I am, the type of racer I’m going to be.’’

Some will suggest that such incidents are the result of a careless driver. What it shows is a driver who doesn’t back down late in a race.

“I know I wouldn’t want to work on someone’s car that’s going to roll over,’’ Logano said after that 2015 Kansas race.

With that driving style, Logano has advanced to the championship race in two of the last three years. 

It also could help him become the sport’s next superstar.

Beyond Johnson’s seven championships, no active driver has more than one Cup title. The sport awaits its next great champion with multiple titles. There are other candidates, but none is as young as Logano, who is 26 and has shown the ability to compete for a championship at this point.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“He could get four or five (titles),’’ said NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty about Logano. “If you go off that theory that he’s the guy challenging the establishment, he’s the guy who can take championships away from the establishment.’’

Consider those who have had run-ins with Logano. They’re part of the establishment.

Even though this is Logano’s ninth full season in Cup, he doesn’t turn 27 until May. Kenseth is 19 years older than Logano. Harvick is 16 years older. Hamlin is 10 years older. Kyle Busch is 5 years older.

It’s just like on the schoolyard, the youngest often has to fight hardest to be considered an equal, and no one likes to be upstaged by someone younger.

Logano faces that and other challenges while in the best situation in his career. When he moved up to Cup in 2009 at age 18, it was to replace Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. That was Stewart’s team, not Logano’s.

When he went to Team Penske in 2013 — after no other Cup teams made much of a pitch for him — it was his team. Taking the knowledge of his Xfinity success and Cup struggles, a wiser Logano could be a leader even though he was 21 years old at the start of that season.

“I think that’s part of what Joey struggled with (at JGR) is you need to be able to put your identity on something and say that may work for him, but it’s not what works for me,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “I think he and I sat down and talked more about what do you need in a race car to be successful. We focused on that. Him (saying) This is what I want. This is what I need.’ We worked very hard at a lot of things in that respect.

The confidence is markedly different from his Gibbs days and comes from the support of teammate Brad Keselowski, owner Roger Penske, Gordon and the rest of the organization. It’s also backed by a commitment. Team Penske recently extended Logano’s contract to beyond 2023, matching the deal with sponsor Shell-Pennzoil.

“Joey has taken some undue criticism from my perspective based on some of the things that have happened,’’ Penske said last July after Logano’s incident with Kurt Busch at Daytona. “I can name three or four things that certainly weren’t his fault. Quite honestly, I think he’s one of the best drivers on the racetrack out there day in and day out.

“Lot of these drivers can knock somebody off the track and they say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and they move on. They don’t let Logano do that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m behind him 300 percent.’’

With such support, Logano will keep racing the way he has. It’s just as he said in Sept. 2012 after it was announced he would join Penske’s team in 2013.

“I think if you shoot for a top-10 finish, the best you’re ever going to do is get a top-10 finish,’’ Logano said. “You’re always wanting more. They call me greedy, but I think that’s the competitiveness in me, to always want to be better.’’

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Upon Further Review: Daytona Speedweeks was a weeklong wreckfest

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Daytona Speedweeks proved to be one of the costliest ever for NASCAR team owners in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series.

More than 100 vehicles were damaged in wrecks during races at Daytona International Speedway, including 35 each in the Daytona 500 and the Xfinity race, based on NASCAR reports and information from Racing Insights.

Reasons vary on the cause of the pileups — from aggressive driving to inexperienced drivers to rule changes and the introduction of stages — but Speedweeks 2017 will go down as one of the most wreck-filled weeks in years.

Among the numbers:

  • There were 106 vehicles involved in accidents in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series races during Speedweeks. That includes the Clash and Duels.
  • There was a 29.2-percent increase in the number of vehicles involved in wrecks during Speedweeks from last year.
  • Only once in the last 10 years were more vehicles damaged during Speedweeks. There were 122 vehicles in accidents in 2012.
  • The 35 cars involved in crashes in the Daytona 500, according to Racing Insights, were more than the number of cars that wrecked in the past two Daytona 500s combined (29).
  • The 35 cars involved in wrecks in the Xfinity race was nearly more than the total for that event for the previous three years combined (38).
  • The 27 trucks that wrecked in that race were the most since 2012 when 30 trucks were involved in incidents.

daytona-crash-graphic

One of the reasons for the chaos in the Daytona 500 is where the accidents started. Drivers say they want to be at the front to avoid crashes, but that wasn’t helpful this time.

Consider:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was leading when Kyle Busch, trying to stay on the lead lap after a green-flag pit stop, had a tire issue and spun in front of Earnhardt. Six cars were collected.

Later, a 17-car crash started after Jimmie Johnson, running third, was hit from behind. Many had nowhere to go.

“That could have been avoided and it wasn’t called for,” Johnson said. “From the minute, I got off of Turn 2 on the entire back straightaway, I kept getting hit, and the rear tires are off the ground. I know there is a lot of energy behind me in the pack, but I didn’t have a chance.

An 11-car crash started when Jamie McMurray hit the rear of Chase Elliott‘s car shortly after a restart as Elliott was running fourth.

But it wasn’t just the Cup drivers who had such issues.

Saturday’s Xfinity race featured a 20-car wreck that started when Tyler Reddick got hit from behind while running seventh.

A 12-car crash started when Brandon Jones was hit while running fifth after contact among two cars behind him.

“I thought everybody would still be somewhat smart and mindful of not tearing up your equipment early and let’s go after it with three to go,” Darrell Wallace Jr. said after he was eliminated by that accident. “But there are different mentalities out there and that’s what causes chaos.”

There was still more to go. A 16-car crash began when Elliott Sadler, running second, was hit from behind. In the Camping World Truck Series race, Matt Crafton was leading when he was hit in the right side by Ben Rhodes, who had been hit from behind. Crafton went airborne. Twelve trucks were in the accident.

 So what caused all the crashes?

Many will blame the introduction of stages and the points that are awarded as a cause, but the only multi-car crash in the Daytona 500 that happened during the first two stages was when Busch’s tire let go.

The 17-car crash and 11-car crash happened after the completion of the second stage.

Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch told NBC Sports that he thought the field would calm down after the completion of the second stage on Lap 120 since 80 laps remained.

That didn’t happen.

“Excuse my language but there was shit going everywhere,’’ Busch said. “Everyone was going every which way. I couldn’t figure out what was going on.’’

He wasn’t the only to notice the aggressive driving that took place in the 500.

Kevin Harvick, who was involved in the 17-car crash, wasn’t pleased with how some raced.

“We just got some cars up there that didn’t need to be up there and wound up doing more than their car could do,’’ he said.

The result was a Daytona 500 that matched the tenor of Speedweeks and left crews with mangled machines to take back to the race shop.

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Upon Further Review: Tough decisions ahead

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — After months of building cars, nights of analyzing data and hours preparing for all contingencies, Sunday’s Daytona 500 could come down to a simple decision for crew chiefs.

Do you want tires or do you want track position?

In recent years, the question was easy. You took track position because tires didn’t wear as much on a surface last repaved in 2010. Teams often changed no tires or two tires at most during the race. Only if the car was way off or the driver flat-spotted the tires trying to slow as they entered pit road did teams change four tires on a stop.

But just as the breeze brings the cool ocean air, there’s a change with Daytona International Speedway.

The 2.5-mile track is reawakening. It’s growing temperamental. The smooth repaved surface is starting to show its personality and make tires wear.

“The grip is just going away,’’ Daytona 500 pole-sitter Chase Elliott said. “These racetracks that sit down here in Florida that bake in the sun all day long, where it stays warm all year, you know, it just puts a lot of age on the track.’’

The result is the cars are becoming more difficult to drive.

“Game planning for this place, the biggest part, I think, is … figuring out what our package needs to be handling-wise,’’ said Todd Gordon, crew chief for Clash winner Joey Logano. “This place is getting rougher and getting older. So handling comes back into play.’’

That’s only part of the issues for crew chiefs. The weather also could be a factor.

Sunday’s Clash was run under sunny skies and temperatures in the low 70s. Even then drivers noted how slick the track was.

Early forecasts call for sunny skies and slightly cooler conditions for the Daytona 500, but a warm front will bring temperatures into the low 80s the day before the race. Should that system slow and arrive on Sunday, it would make the day of the 500 one of the warmest in the last decade. That would make the track even more challenging for drivers.

“I was surprised at how slick it was (Sunday), and it’s going to be times 10 next Sunday,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said. “It will definitely be something that guys will be looking at.

“I think tires will be important, but track position, if you’re in the top three or four and can get single file … that’s the place to be. If you get shuffled out of that on old tires, you get in trouble. If you don’t have tires, you need to find a way to stay up front and that’s tough to do.’’

There’s another challenge for some teams. Although the Clash featured drivers in cars they won’t race in the Daytona 500, it seemed pretty clear that Team Penske, which won the last three restrictor-plate races last season, again is strong with Brad Keselowski and Logano. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars also were good running together and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was thrilled with the speed his new Ford had.

“It seems that Penske’s cars and even Stewart-Haas’ Ford stuff is really strong right now,’’ said Matt McCall, crew chief for Jamie McMurray. “I think to outrun those cars you’re going to have to have a little bit of strategy to stay in front of them, based off that (Clash) car.’’

By “strategy,” that means track position over tires.

“I’d minimize anything on pit road,’’ McCall said.

That’s another factor that could play into the race. If the race features hot and slick conditions, that could lead to numerous cautions. If the cautions are spread out evenly, handling might not matter as much as track position. Last year’s Daytona 500 had only one green-flag run of more than 35 laps. 

Harvick says it’s simple what a driver will want from his car.

“I think you’re going to want a little bit of both,’’ he said, referring to handling and tires. “If it’s a long run, you’re going to want tires. If it turns out to be a short run, I think you can hang on to it for 15 or 20 laps.’’

If only it was that simple for crew chiefs. After all the work by so many on the team and back at the shop, the winner of the Daytona 500 could be determined in a split-second call by a crew chief. Make the wrong call and the driver might not have a chance to win. Make the right call and it could lead to a cerebration unlike any other.

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Upon Further Review: Listening to good advice

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Enough of the lessons, Joey Logano says, he’s ready to win a championship.

Two years ago, he was told to treat the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway like any other race.

“I said, yeah, OK,’’ Logano said in a disbelieving manner.

Instead of following the advice, he hyperfocused on the task, constantly seeking to game plan with crew Todd Gordon.

“You’re looking at every little detail, as you should, but you’ve also got to be able to turn it off, and that’s where I didn’t do that before,’’ Logano said after his win Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway put him in the title race for the second time in three years.

He’s learned that the words given to him two years ago are what he should be following.

“We race to win every week; why should we race differently for a championship, right?’’ said Logano, who seeks his first series title. “We’re racing to win that race, and that’s ultimately going to have a championship attached to that. 

“We’ve just got to do the same thing we did this weekend. We’ve got momentum. We’ve won multiple races. We’ve got on rolls before where you’ve got that momentum and that confidence and it just keeps stacking up like it did last year, and we’re in good position to do that again.’’

Two years ago, Kevin Harvick won the championship and Logano was consoled by those who told him his time would come.

“After the race, everyone told me, you’ve got to lose one to win one, and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. “But you know what, it’s not the fact that you have to lose one to win one, it’s the fact that maybe it really helped me to just live through it once, and since then, we’ve been in those situations.

“We raced (Sunday) for a championship. We raced in Talladega for a championship. We’ve done this before.

“Homestead (in 2014) was the first time we ever had to do that.  You think about the way that Chase went, you know, we’ve won races in each round, where we never really had our back against the wall or anything. These last few years we’ve been in the position that we’ve had our back up against the wall and had to win, and we’ve been able to do that this year a couple times.’’

NOT A HAIL MARY

While it is easy to label the decision not to pit Denny Hamlin late in Sunday’s race a tremendous gamble, that’s not how crew chief Mike Wheeler saw it. Instead, he viewed it as a move they had to make.

Hamlin was running sixth when the caution flag waved for Martin Truex Jr.’s accident on Lap 257. Hamlin trailed Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch — drivers he was racing for a spot in the title race.

Wheeler decided to keep Hamlin on track, while the rest of the field pitted. Hamlin restarted in the lead with Kenseth second, Logano sixth and Busch seventh.

Hamlin fell to second off the restart and stayed there until a debris caution on Lap 267. After that restart, Hamlin fell back, while Kenseth moved into the lead and Logano took second. Hamlin later pitted during overtime because he was close on fuel. He finished seventh, failing to make it to the championship round.

Wheeler explained the decision not to pit on Lap 257:

“At the end of the day we were behind the guys,’’ Wheeler said of those they were racing to make it to the championship round, “so we had to do something different to get ahead of them. We were too equal to beat them straight up without some kind of off-sequence deal.

“We talked about it beforehand. We knew that this was one of those places that tires didn’t matter that much. I think if we don’t get multiple cautions, we actually make it. We ran second that stint. We don’t get any more cautions, we finish second or third and we probably make it in. I don’t say it’s a Hail Mary but it’s definitely an aggressive move to gain track position.’’

THREE LONG YEARS

Phoenix marked the three-year anniversary since Richard Childress Racing last won a Sprint Cup race. The organization is winless in its last 108 Cup races.

RCR’s last win came with Kevin Harvick on Nov. 10, 2013. Austin Dillon has yet to win a Cup race for the organization, Ryan Newman also has not won with the organization, and Paul Menard’s lone victory came in the 2011 Brickyard 400 for the team.

Menard was the team’s top driver Sunday, placing 10th. RCR has placed one driver in the top 10 in six of the nine Chase races.

Car owner Richard Childress acknowledges that work remains for his company.

“We have been disappointed with some of our finishes but the things we have worked on the last several months, I have seen a real good gain in the speed in our cars,’’ he said. “We have been in the right position several times for a win but just couldn’t pull it off.

“I think the people that Eric Warren (director of competition) and Mike Dillon (vice president of competition) have gone out and found and been able to bring in is going to make a huge difference in our competition.

“I think we will be in really good shape next year and we have added Matt Borland (to be Menard’s crew chief in 2017), and we have added two or three new engineers. We also have stepped it up in our engine program in Cup.”

MAKING PROGRESS

Kyle Larson’s third-place finish Sunday marked his best run in the Chase and his second top-10 result in the last five races.

Although eliminated from title contention after the first round, Larson has made progress this season.

His average finish was 22.6 in the season’s first 11 races. Twice he failed to finish races.

In the 11 races since his victory at Michigan, his average finish is 11.9.

“We were so bad to start the year that I felt like our gains were extremely noticeable throughout the first third of the year,’’ Larson said. “Then up until I won at Michigan and a little bit after, I feel like we haven’t gained as much each week as we did earlier in the year.

“We’ve made gains but they haven’t been as big of gains because we’re closer to where we need to be. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck in the last eight races that we’ve run, but we’ve continued to stay positive, work hard and try to make our stuff faster to build the notebook for the offseason and start of next season.”

PIT STOPS

Erik Jones seeks to become the first driver to win a Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series title in back-to-back years this weekend in Miami.

Michael McDowell’s incident after a blown tire set up the overtime finish Sunday at Phoenix. It marked the second time in this Chase he has had an incident that sent a race into overtime. It also happened at Chicagoland Speedway in the Chase opener. In both cases, the driver leading when McDowell had his incident did not win the race in overtime.

— Joey Logano’s victory Sunday was his third of the year. He is the eighth different driver this season to win at least three races. The last time that has happened was 1962.

— Joey Logano also recorded his seventh Chase win since 2014. That is more than any other driver in that period.

— Kevin Harvick’s fourth-place finish was his seventh consecutive top-five result at Phoenix.

Ryan Blaney’s eighth-place finish was his first top-10 result since the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.

— Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Sprint Cup Series is 33.8.

— Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Camping World Truck Series is 33.8.

  Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Xfinity Series is 28.8

Upon Further Review: What lies ahead for Kevin Harvick in Chase?

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Crew chief Rodney Childers stood beside Kevin Harvick’s car after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway wondering what could have been done to make the car perform better.

Harvick finished sixth in the rain-shortened race, meaning that he all but likely needs to win this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway to make the championship round a third consecutive season.

What troubled Childers wasn’t the situation Harvick is in — Harvick has won in must-win scenarios to advance before — it’s what they face when they get to the title round.

The race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will feature the same tire as what Sprint Cup teams raced at Texas and at Chicagoland Speedway to begin the Chase.

While Childers looks forward to Phoenix, Homestead weighs on his mind.

“I definitely feel good about next week,’’ Childers told NBC Sports of Phoenix, a track Harvick has won at six of the last eight times. “I feel that we’re probably taking our best car and we’ve prepared well for the race. It will be about fine-tuning it and it looks like it’s going to be real warm out there. I think that will kind of help us out a little bit. (Harvick) does good when it comes to a slick racetrack out there and all that.

“I guess the disappointing thing is even if we win next week I’m not sure what we can do at Homestead. All we can do is our best, definitely missing something with these tires.’’

Despite showing speed in qualifying (Harvick started third) and in practice Friday, Harvick couldn’t challenge the leaders Sunday.

“It’s something with these tires we just can’t get a hold of,’’ Childers said. “We just haven’t been good on them, haven’t been able to get a handle on it. We’ve tried two different cars and two different setups and way different air pressures and all different stuff and it’s not really helping us. It’s probably the first time in 2 1/2 years that we’ve had stuff like that we’ve struggled with.’’ 

Said Harvick of his race: “We were tight, we were loose, and we were kind of all over the place. We could take off okay, but we would fall way off at the end of a run.’’

In the three races with these tires, Harvick has finished sixth (Texas fall race), 20th (Chicago) and 10th (Texas spring race).

Harvick ranks toward the bottom among the remaining Chase contenders in average finish in those races:

2.3 — Joey Logano

4.7 — Kyle Busch

7.7 — Carl Edwards

9.0 — Jimmie Johnson

9.0 — Denny Hamlin

9.3 — Matt Kenseth

12.0 — Kevin Harvick

14.0 — Kurt Busch

Of course, Harvick still has to advance to Miami this weekend at Phoenix. But should he, the question will be how strong a challenger will the 2014 champion be for the rest of the title field, which includes six-time champ Jimmie Johnson and 2011 runner-up Carl Edwards?

TIME TO REPAVE?

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said this weekend that the track will need to be repaved at some point because the surface’s top layer has become porous after years of beating by cars and Air Titans. That’s exaggerated the time needed to dry the track.

Gossage is trying to hold off repaving as long as possible, but he knows it will have to be done someday. When it does, drivers will howl because repaved tracks lead to increased speeds, narrow grooves and less side-by-side racing.

After finishing second in Sunday’s rain-delayed and rain-shortened race, Joey Logano was asked about the prospect of repaving the track: “I’d rather it just not rain. Is that possible? Start saying prayers. I don’t know. Talk to the man upstairs about that one.

“I don’t want to say I get it, but I do. You can’t have a racetrack that takes that long to dry. You can’t have that. But, golly, I really like the way this track races right now. It’s a lot of fun. You can run the top, bottom. It’s bumpy. It’s just awesome right now.  All but that one thing.

“So depends what everyone wants to live with.  Pick your poison, right?’’

BATTLE AMONG FRIENDS

Justin Allgaier’s daughter says her favorite driver is Blake Koch. Koch’s son says his favorite driver is Allgaier.

Koch stands one point ahead of Allgaier for the final transfer spot to the championship round in the Xfinity Series. The four title contenders will be set this weekend at Phoenix and the close friends could be racing each other for a chance to win the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Koch calls Allgaier one of his best friends.

“Even if I wasn’t racing anymore, I’d probably talk to him everyday and hang out,’’ Koch said.

Koch noted that the bond with Allgaier includes Allgaier’s family. Koch said that there have been “dozens of times” that he stayed in the motorhome of Allgaier’s parents at the track because he couldn’t afford a hotel room.

“I can’t tell you how close of friends we are, but we both know when the race starts, that’s our job,’’ Koch told NBC Sports. “It’s business. No matter what happens, it’s not going to change our friendship.’’

Allgaier says it’s not hard racing against Koch even with their friendship.

“He’s somebody I look up to a lot as a race car driver,’’ Allgaier told NBC Sports. “He’s a talented race car driver.

“That’s probably what makes next week so much fun. I know he’ll race me hard and clean.’’

TWO WEEKS TO A DREAM

Johnny Sauter doesn’t hide from what could be ahead for him. After his second consecutive Camping World Truck Series victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, he remains the only driver qualified for that series’ championship race in Miami.

The other three title race competitors will be determined this weekend at Phoenix.

Sauter, who is in his eighth full-time season in the Truck series, has never won the championship. He finished second in 2011 by six points to Austin Dillon. Since, Sauter has finished no better than fourth in the standings.

“I’ve been racing a long time, I’ve had the thoughts of being a champion a long time,’’ he said..

“It would mean a lot to me … but I feel like the championship would mean a lot to my family. Everybody racing through the years and all the short tracks and all the stuff that we’ve done. It would be really, really cool to bring the championship home to family.’’

In two weeks, the son of a racer and brother of racers, could do just that.

PIT STOPS

— Carl Edwards became the seventh driver with three or more victories this season. It’s the first time in the sport’s modern era (since 1972) that there have been seven different drivers with three or more victories in a season. The last time it happened was 1964 when NASCAR had 62 races.

— Carl Edwards’ win ended a seven-race winless streak for Joe Gibbs Racing — the longest winless streak for the team this year.

— For the third time in the last five races, the Cup pole-sitter finished 35th or worse in the race. Austin Dillon crashed after contact with Kevin Harvick and finished 37th at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. was 40th at Talladega after a blown engine, and Harvick placed 38th at Charlotte because of an engine issue.

— Kurt Busch’s 20th-place finish Sunday, leaves him last among the eight title contenders and 34 points out of the final transfer spot. He essentially needs to win Phoenix to make the championship round. Said his crew chief Tony Gibson: “We’re not dead yet. We’ve got to swing for the fences. We’ve got to take some huge risks and put ourselves out there and see if we can win it.’’