Joey Logano tames Talladega once again
BY RICK MINTER
With a masterful job of keeping his challengers at bay in the closing laps, Joey Logano raced to victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. It ended a 36-race winless streak and delivered Logano his 19th career Cup win and his third at Talladega.
Kurt Busch finished second ahead of Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and David Ragan, who scored his best finish since another sixth-place at Daytona International Speedway last summer.
Logano said the fact that the Ford drivers worked together until the last lap was a big factor in him winding up in Victory Lane in a race that saw 25 official lead changes.
“I think all the Fords had very fast cars,” he said. “There at the end you work together as much as you can. You just want to make sure a Ford wins, and you hope it’s you. …
“I had some Stewart-Haas cars behind me, which aren’t necessarily teammates, but with the Ford Performance relationship, it’s the closest thing that I’m ever going to have to it. I was thankful to have them behind me.”
But when it mattered, his fellow Ford drivers stumbled and Logano cruised to Victory Lane, never losing the lead over the final 42 laps.
“They got split up, and that changed the complexion of the race, where it came down to the end, the last few corners. It was all about making the right blocks, keeping them close so I didn’t pull away too far, they’d get a big run. Just staring in the mirror pretty much the whole time.”
And Logano pointed out that after a disappointing 2017 season — which began to unravel when an early win at Richmond was ruled encumbered by NASCAR after his car failed inspection and resulted in his missing the playoffs — his team has been on the rebound this season.
Entering Talladega, he had eight top-10s in the first nine races of the season, including six finishes of sixth or better.
“Any time you go through times of trial like [last year], that’s very challenging for everyone,” Logano said. “If you can get through that together, you’re stronger. For that reason, I feel like my team’s never been stronger.”
A new handling package this season, brought about by a relaxing of NASCAR’s rules for ride heights of cars running at Daytona and Talladega, had many drivers saying the cars were more difficult to drive than in past Talladega races, due to less downforce.
Elliott said the issue made drivers reluctant to make bold moves, even as the leaders were racing to the checkered flag.
“Those guys were being awfully patient with one another,” Elliott said. “I was very surprised. … Scared some people off from running three-wide and four-wide.”
Kurt Busch said he felt like he was in a winning position when he had his teammate Kevin Harvick and another fast Ford driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., behind him and in position to push him past Logano for the win. But it didn’t materialize.
“You wish you could go over and do it again,” he said. “I feel like I left that one out on the table.”
He added that part of the reason none of the three challengers were able to pass Logano was they all were kind of selfish.
“That’s how we got all strung out, trying to be the one guy by himself, where you need three to kind of hook up and go and try to pass the leader.”
Sunday’s race saw the usual “Big One” multi-car crash that has become commonplace at Talladega. It occurred in Turns Three and Four on Lap 167, when Jimmie Johnson and teammate William Byron collided while racing in the lead draft. The 14 drivers involved included Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard, who each scored a stage win early in the race and had cars fast enough to contend for the victory.
“We just got the bottom lane rolling decent and kind of got shuffled back,” Menard said of the laps leading up to the crash. “It is so hard to get back forward. We went for the top and that wasn’t working, so we went to the bottom and started going forward, but the 48 [Johnson] just cut across the 24 [Byron] from what I saw and caused a big wreck.”
Kyle Busch’s bid to win four straight Cup races ended with a 13th-place finish in which he never led a lap.