Category archive: Joey Logano

Almost three years ago, Joey Logano was mired in a subpar Sprint Cup race in a very mediocre rookie season. Sitting 24th in points, Logano spun after the halfway point at New Hampshire, which allowed him to play pit strategy when the weather began to look threatening.

The rest is history: Logano became the youngest winner in series history, and it looked like the "Sliced Bread" dynasty was about to begin.

Then, a funny thing happened ... it didn't happen. Logano's 2010 started in a very blah fashion, but he was one of the hottest drivers to finish the season. Then 2011 was a letdown, and the beginning of this year didn't look much better.

Sunday, Logano finally picked up a win in which he got to cross the finish line, checkered flag waving, and do the burnout.

Now 182 drivers have won Cup series races, but about a third of those have never won a second race. Logano now is among the fortunate two-thirds who have. And not only does Logano have a more "legitimate" win, he did it by outdueling Mark Martin (more on him later).

We now can fairly ask: Is this Joe Gibbs Racing's best three-car tandem (with Denny Hamlin and Kyle Bush)? If Logano continues to show this strength, you can make a very strong case.

This is the third time Gibbs has had three teams win Cup races in a season, but this is the earliest it has happened, just 14 races into a season. Now Gibbs will try to put all three teams in the Chase for just the second time, after pulling it off in 2008.

Trivia break! Who has the most Cup series wins for Joe Gibbs Racing?

Always a bridesmaid

Martin was 31 years old when Logano was born. Let that one sink in.

Logano got the upper hand on Martin at the end of Sunday's race at Pocono, getting Martin all wiggly with four to go then pulling away from the 55.

That marked the seventh time Martin has finished second at Pocono, a track where he has never won. That's the most second-place finishes a driver has had at a track without a win in Cup series history.

Martin broke a tie with Bobby Allison, who was second six times at Martinsville without a win.

Trivia break! Martin has 40 career wins and 60 second-place finishes for a differential of minus-20. Who is the only driver in Cup history with a worse differential?

Busted

Usually in NASCAR, speed is a good thing. Except when you're on pit road.

Fourteen drivers were busted 22 times for speeding in Sunday's race, which, according to our friends at Racing Resources, is the most that have been recorded since they began documenting infractions in the summer of 2006.

Five drivers were tagged multiple times, and no driver was busted more than Travis Kvapil, who was ticketed four times. I imagine his insurance premiums will go up.

Trivia break! Before Logano, who was the last driver to go more than 100 starts between wins?

Trivia break answers

1. Tony Stewart leads all Gibbs drivers with 33 wins, then Bobby Labonte with 21.

2. Buddy Baker had 19 wins and 42 second-places for a minus-23.

3. Juan Pablo Montoya went 113 starts between wins from 2007-10.

Listen up, because I'm about to drop some knowledge on you.

I know Jimmie Johnson's six Charlotte wins make him a tempting fantasy play this weekend. But when you're picking your A-lister for Sunday evening, you should go with a guy who's never won at Charlotte.

Trust me on this one. I've got numerical evidence to support it!

So, Johnson has a sextet of Charlotte wins, but five of those came between 2003 and 2005. He had two runner-up finishes in 2006, and in the subsequent eight races, he has a single win, just one other top-5 finish and five finishes of 10th or worse.

Kyle Busch, on the other hand, is rocking a streak of seven straight finishes of eighth or better at Charlotte, with four top-three finishes in that span.

An explanation? I'm getting to it.

Last year, Busch's driver rating and number of fastest laps run were better in both Charlotte races than Johnson's marks in either of those races.

And this past fall, Busch had the best overall green-flag speed, but a win was not to be, as it went to Jamie McMurray.

But I know you want a sleeper, too, and I will deliver.

Joey Logano, in just four starts at Charlotte, has an average running position that ranks behind only Johnson's going back to 2005. He's averaging 68.5 quality passes per race, or nearly 20 more per race than what any other driver is averaging. Quality passes are green-flag passes inside the top 15 on the track.

So, don't let those early numbers sway you into picking Johnson. Or, maybe there is something behind those six wins?

The Eliminator: Charlotte

Most people just pick winners -- some by hunches, some by stats, some by just picking names off the top of their heads.

I don't pick winners; I pick losers. I'll make my race pick by telling you why all but one driver in the field just can't win.

1. Fifteen of the past 16 Charlotte winners had a previous top-10 finish at the track (15 drivers eliminated, 33 remaining).

2. The past 10 Sprint Cup Series winners this season finished 18th or better in their most recent race at the track (18 eliminated, 15 remaining).

3. Ten of the past 11 600-mile race winners at Charlotte finished in the top 20 in that season's Daytona 500 (seven eliminated, eight remaining).

4. The past five Charlotte winners finished 19th or better in the most recent Chicago and Kansas races (three eliminated, five remaining).

5. The past three Charlotte winners had a top-three finish in that season's Southern 500 (four eliminated, one remaining).

Your winner: Carl Edwards.

And here we are, just one race to go. Which means this is my last loop data-style stats preview for the year.

As much as I'd like to wax poetic (my favorite means of waxing) about the season as a whole and some of my favorite moments, I'd love to let you reflect on some of your favorite blog posts of the year (I won't make you choose, as long it's one of mine). There are a number of topics we have to hit on this week, and these tired fingers only have so many words left in them, despite their muscularity.

But we're in a time crunch here, and I wanted to throw a few thoughts out there before ESPN.com freezes and stores me for the offseason. I imagine it's the same process they use for the "Baseball Tonight" anchors -- I just hope my storage chamber has a nice view, unobstructed and all.

It's my last chance to throw a few nuggets out there, so if you're up for a change of pace from the Chase (yay rhyming!), here are a couple of thoughts:

First of all, let's talk about the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year award, which I assume they'll still give. It'll be Kevin Conway -- not to ruin the surprise. He'll finish the year 35th in points, barring a minor miracle. But that's not even the worst a rookie of the year's finished in points, although it'll be the third worst. Why not a little offseason adjustment in rules so Brad Keselowski -- who wasn't eligible because of his part-time Cup schedule in 2009 -- could've won it? Just saying.

After a very quiet year, two Roush Fenway drivers -- Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth -- have put themselves in the top five in points, and another -- Greg Biffle -- has won a pair of races. All of the wins were with the new FR9 Ford engine, and with a better handle on that next year, I expect big things from the RFR camp.

Paul Menard's Cup career has been the subject of a lot of jokes to this point, but I think next year he puts those to rest by getting himself in the Chase picture at Richard Childress Racing. Over the past eight races, Menard has more points than Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya.

And to finish, we might see some short fields next year, but it won't be the end of the world. However, I'm not sure NASCAR will allow that to happen. So keep an eye out there for yours truly, driving my first car, a 1988 Chevy Celebrity. Let's go racing, boys!

Without further ado, here are my loop-data notes, with some help from NASCAR's sultan of stats, Mike Forde:

Beginnings and ends

Kevin Harvick said that Homestead might be his best track on the schedule, despite having never previously won there. He's got a point: It is his best track in terms of average finish, and Happy could pull off the comeback this weekend if the caution flags fly early and often.

That's because dating back to 2005, no driver has a better speed early in runs than Harvick, while Jimmie Johnson ranks fifth in that category and Denny Hamlin 12th. Harvick comes crashing back to earth on the long runs, though, falling to the 13th-best average speed, while Johnson is 10th and Hamlin remains 12th.

But all the chips are on the table now, and we might be able to throw all the past stats out as they'll leave nothing on the table Sunday.

Advantage: Hamlin?

OK, so maybe Hamlin didn't look so impressive in that previous blog entry, but he does have the fourth-fastest speed in traffic at Homestead dating back to 2005, and his ability to pass cars shows up glowingly.

Since 2005, Hamlin's pass differential at Homestead is a plus-119, by far the best among the Cup boys. Do you smell a list time?

Best green-flag pass differential at Homestead (since 2005)
• Denny Hamlin, plus-119
• Tony Stewart, plus-79
• Jimmie Johnson, plus-60
• Dale Earnhardt Jr., plus-57

And since you're curious (why else would you be reading this?), Harvick ranks seventh, with a plus-42.

Young and restless

Besides the top three in points, no driver has accumulated more points in the Chase this year than Joey Logano. Logano has finished seventh, sixth, fifth, fourth and then third, in that order. And compared to his first 31 races this year, Logano's past five have been a huge step in the right direction.

Logano's average finish in the first 31 races was a 18.0, with a 77.5 driver rating, 17.7 average running position and a negative-77 pass differential. And he averaged only 4.3 fastest laps per race.

In the past five, however, he had a 5.0 average finish, a 103.0 driver rating, a 9.9 average running position and plus-66 pass differential. Not to mention 8.8 fastest laps run per race.

Hamlin might be joined in a title hunt next year by the man in the orange car.

That's all I have for you this week -- enjoy the final race of the year!

As a NASCAR fan and a writer, I find it quite an honor to be featured here on ESPN.com, and I'm willing to accept the fact that maybe I'm one of the lower-profile writers here on the Web site. Who doesn't love the lowered expectations? I thrive on them.

However, my role often directly leads to a lack of reader interaction. Namely, I don't get reader e-mails. But everybody loves a mailbag column, so why should I get left out of the fun?

I mean, I don't have the history in the sport like Ed Hinton. Maybe I don't have the news contacts of a Terry Blount or David Newton. And I certainly don't have the southern charm of a Marty Smith. But, if he has his six, I can at least have my two!

So, with the Chase very much in the air and moving ahead to one of the most exciting races on the schedule, a wild card if there was one in the Chase, I thought this would be an ideal time to guilt two friends I know read my column regularly into representing my legions of rabid fans with the following preapproved questions:

Matt,

I've heard a lot about possible changes to the Chase next season and I for one am completely in favor of expanding the field. How about an automatic Chase berth for any son of a seven-time cup champion? Anyone who just so happens to fit this criteria should be in. Maybe they could even start the Chase with a 100 point lead. What do you think?

-- Jrfan88, Kannapolis, N.C.

Dear Junior fan, I can clearly see this letter's bias and will not be fooled by your favoritism. The truth is that Kyle Petty's best days are long behind him, and while he might've won a few races, he'll never be a championship contender again. Not until he cuts of that ponytail, you hippie!

Matt,

What offseason moves does Joe Nemechek need to make to become a contender again?

-- Mark, Garfield Heights, Ohio

Geez, I can't believe I had to wait two whole questions to get to the Joe Nemechek conversation. Well, my Ohio native friend, if this past summer has taught me anything, it's that his first move to becoming a championship contender is joining the Miami Heat.

Now it's time to take my talents to my Talladega prerace notes!

Back in the mix

And all of a sudden, Denny Hamlin is just six points behind Jimmie Johnson for the Chase points lead. However, he's failed to finish each of the past two Chase races at Talladega, putting up a 38th and 39th in those two races. And he's never won a restrictor-plate race.

On the flip side (which is totally the better side), Hamlin does a good job of getting to the front, having led at least one lap in each of his nine career Talladega starts. And his loop data numbers back up the fact that Hamlin is in a ride that he can drive to the front.

Despite the lack of wins, no driver has a better average position at Talladega dating back to 2005 than Hamlin's 13.8, and his teammate Joey Logano is second in that category. Likewise, Hamlin's 95.9 driver rating at Talladega is also tops, with Logano right behind in second.

Making a pass

No, don't get the wrong idea. Unless you're beautiful, single and interested in NASCAR bloggers, then you can contact my editors for my information.

The key at Talladega obviously is being able to make up ground through the field late in the race, so I checked out the green-flag pass differential at Talladega over the past five seasons. The mission: Simply to be able to pass more than being passed, for when you have to drop the hammer and get to the front.

Two drivers separated themselves from the field. Jamie McMurray was a plus-187, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a plus-186. One has won recently at Talladega, the other won a lot several years ago. Unless they get caught up in the "big one," you can expect them to be factors on Sunday.

Third on that list, just for the record, is my dark horse for Sunday's race. Roush Fenway's David Ragan.

Talladega tidbits

Although I'm always of the opinion that the best drivers, the cream of the crop, will find their way to the front at Talladega, I'm also going to say that we'll see a lot of drivers up front, and there are many potential candidates for a win Sunday.

I mean, look at the spring race, which set NASCAR Cup Series records with 29 leaders and 88 lead changes. Those lead changes completely blew away the previous record, which was 75 at Talladega in 1984.

Furthermore, no driver ran the fastest lap more than eight times in the spring race. Clint Bowyer finished in the top 10 and didn't run the fastest lap a single time in the race. Kevin Harvick, the race winner, was only in the top 15 for 28 percent of laps.

But you don't need me to tell you this is anybody's ballgame. So, that's all I have for you this week. Enjoy the race!

Watching last Sunday's Cup race at California, a thought popped into my head. Is Jimmie Johnson winning the Chase, or did several other drivers just lose it?

Johnson has left the door more open in the past, an opinion I shared in my last blog. If you want the details, please just go ahead and glance at my last entry -- I won't go anywhere. In fact, I'll stop typing for a bit, grab a drink, maybe a quick 10-minute nap, let you catch up. Of course, you'll never know that -- it'll seem instantaneous to you.

It's not just the drivers who have crashed out or blown engines -- the drivers directly behind Johnson and within shouting distance have given up some points, too. Tony Stewart ran out of gas while leading the Chase opener. Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick both got speeding penalties on pit road this week, leaving some points on the table.

Second-place Denny Hamlin hasn't had a bad finish but went into the past few races with an attitude of just trying to survive and advance. Going in with that mindset can cost you, and it did. After dominating Richmond in the regular-season finale, Hamlin has not led a lap in the Chase, leaving 20 possible bonus points on the table.

Now we're heading to a track where Johnson is tied for the most career wins, but is he as good there as labeled? This is where my numbers come into play, because here come my favorite loop data stats previewing the weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway:

Seamless transition

Usually I use those section titles to preview the note, but I thought that was funnier.

Like I was saying, Johnson's numbers in 2002-06 at Charlotte were just unreal. In 10 races, he had five wins and no finish worse than seventh. Since 2007 he has just one win in seven races, and that's his only top-5 finish in that span.

NASCAR's loop data numbers go to 2005, and time and lack of raw data prevent me from getting specific numbers since 2007, but the figures speak for themselves. Johnson still leads all drivers in that time in driver rating, fastest laps run, speed in traffic and overall green-flag speed.

And despite some bad finishes, Johnson's shown an ability to get to the front, leading in each of his past 17 Charlotte starts.

Other than the 48

In the three previous Chases, we've had only one race winner come from outside the Chase. That was Jamie McMurray last year at Talladega, but it wouldn't surprise me if a non-Chaser won at Charlotte, and it might come from out of nowhere.

Joey Logano has only seven top-5 finishes in his young career -- one of those last year in the fall race at Charlotte -- and he comes in with momentum, as two others have been in the past four races.

Charlotte is Logano's best track in terms of driver rating, and he leads all drivers since 2005 in quality passes (green-flag passes in the top 15) per race and in speed in traffic. So don't be surprised if Logano plays spoiler Saturday night.

Charlotte sweep?

No driver has won both points races and the All-Star Race at Charlotte in the same year. Well, it could happen this year (why else would I bring that up?), courtesy Kurt Busch, who might have something to prove after a little run-in with David Ragan at California.

Busch dominated at Charlotte in the spring, putting up a near-perfect driver rating of 147.8. A perfect rating is 150 and has been done only 10 times since 2005, and not this year. He led 252 of the 400 laps in the 600-miler at Charlotte in the spring, running all but one lap in the top 15. He also ran the fastest lap on 77 circuits. No other driver ran more than 39.

Could this be Busch's opportunity to get himself back in the Chase? Let's wait and see.

That's all I have for this week. Enjoy the race!

I don't know what the weather was like in your neck of the woods today, but here in Connecticut, it couldn't be lovelier. Blue skies, moderate temperatures, gentle breeze. A perfect day for the Research Department softball team (nicknamed Research & Destroy) to improve to 6-0.

This is a nice time of year, certainly nothing to raise your ire or shorten your temper.

Unless you're in NASCAR. Then if your day was ruined late in a 600-mile race at Charlotte or a 500-mile race at Pocono, even the most mild-mannered can have their buttons pushed. See Burton, Jeff and Logano, Joey.

Burton, an elder statesman of NASCAR, who is always good for a wise word and a calm voice. Logano, the gentle youth who never seems to be without a smile on his face. Yet here are both of them, up in their opponents' grills after late-race incidents. The race to the Chase is already on, and it's only going to get more intense from here.

I like to think I'm among the calmer bloggers out there. So allow me to give the drivers a word of advice, since I assume they all read my blog, perhaps twice.

Find some "you" time after a race, a day at the shop or making a sponsor appearance. Get yourself a nice hammock (from the Hammock District down on third), maybe an iced tea or some other cool beverage and just enjoy the gentle summer rhythms. Birds chirping, wind chimes in the distance …


Sorry, dozed off for a second there. Maybe I'm doing too well at relaxing here. I should start a seminar.

Anyway, here are some of my favorite research notes coming out of Pocono. Try to stay awake.

Triangle Master

When you finish this blog entry, feel free to go back and look at my last one when I say that any Pocono preview has to include Denny Hamlin. Well, as is quickly becoming the case, all of the post-race blogs on Pocono also lead with Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin won last season's second race at Pocono, and with his win on Sunday, he becomes the first driver to win back-to-back races at Pocono on two separate occasions.

There has been a pair of three-race win streaks at Pocono, pulled off by Bobby Allison and Tim Richmond.

Hamlin's average finish at Pocono is now up to 8.6, the best in track history among those with at least two starts at the track. In fact, only three other drivers have an average finish better than 10th there with at least two starts. They are Jimmie Johnson (9.5), Davey Allison (9.8) and Richmond (9.9).

Trivia break: This was Hamlin's fourth career Pocono win, leaving him one off the track record. Who holds that?

Put on a "Happy" face

Kevin Harvick came out of Pocono looking the part of the villain, especially when you have a happy-go-lucky kid like Logano looking to weave his way through 40 crew members to get in your business.

But, more important, Harvick came out of Pocono with the points lead. And really, if you maintain that, people will come back and start liking you. After all, you're the moneymaker.

"Happy" Harvick's has now held the points lead after five straight races, the first Richard Childress Racing driver to do that since Dale Earnhardt led the points race for eight straight in 1996. Earnhardt also did so in 1995. Those are the only two longer points-leading streaks than Harvick's since Earnhardt won his last Cup Series title in 1994.

Trivia break: Who has RCR's best points finish since Dale Earnhardt?

Ford-ing the river

Ford has yet to win a race this season, and their new engine didn't give the results they probably wanted a Pocono. Of the four drivers to use it, only AJ Allmendinger finished in the top 10 or even showed the potential to run up front. This Sunday, all Ford cars are scheduled to use the new engine at Michigan.

Racing Resources pointed out that the last time Ford went this many races into the season without a win was 1983, when Ford didn't win its first race until Bobby Allison won the summer race at Daytona, the 16th race of the season.

If things get even worse, be on the lookout for this stat. The last time Ford went winless in a season was 1977.

Trivia break: What driver got Ford's first Cup Series win?

Trivia break answers

1. Bill Elliott holds the record with five Pocono wins.
2. Clint Bowyer finished third in points in 2007.
3. Jimmy Florian won at Dayton in 1950 in a Ford, the first win for the manufacturer.

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