<
>

Watch out for confident Logano

4/28/2014 - NASCAR

RICHMOND, Va. -- Drivers were unhappy with Goodyear after Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, and they were largely unhappy with each other, as gamesmanship was the name of the game over the closing laps -- with at least one right hook thrown on pit road just after the event concluded.

Joey Logano? He was all smiles -- rarely is he not -- after earning a thrilling victory over the closing laps that saw him outduel former champions Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon for his second win of the season in only nine races. It was the fifth win of his budding career.

"Sliced Bread" -- the nickname Logano was given by Mark Martin all those years ago -- might have truly arrived, now putting together the kind of consistency -- not to mention late-race runs to the front -- that had been predicted for him for years.

That it came at Richmond just added to the wonder.

"This isn't a very good racetrack for me in the past, but we had a really good car today and we were able to put it in Victory Lane," he said. "This is so cool to win two races already this season, and it is just going to be one heck of a season and I can't wait to get to the race track next week."

Logano joins Kevin Harvick as the only drivers with two victories this season, and, as long as a driver can stay in the top 30, two wins guarantees a spot in the Chase. Currently sixth in the standings, that shouldn't be an issue for Logano. Next week's race? Big, bad Talladega. But the way things are going for Logano, what does he have to worry about?

With Kyle Larson turning heads as a Sprint Cup rookie and Chase Elliott wowing NASCAR at the Nationwide Series level, Logano couldn't have picked a better time to contend for wins and perhaps a championship.

If there were ever any fears the 23-year-old was never going to have his day in the sun before a new generation takes up the torch, they should be buried now. Watching him spend the next 17 races in an all-out pursuit for victories over points might provide the best entertainment the sport has to offer in a season that has already been plenty entertaining.

His fearless approach to the final laps Saturday led to a seemingly improbable victory. What might he pull out off next?

"You know, any time you're down to the end of the race, there really is no patience," he said. "It's wide open. Obviously, I was able to see that in front of me and wanted to make sure I was close enough when something happened I was able to take advantage of it, and that's what I was able to do.

"Restarts, anything, it comes down to the end of the race. Patience is out the window. It's all about just go for it. I think that's what the fans want. That's what you got this year."

Logano made a late surge to make his first Chase last season. Before that, he had been seen as promise unfulfilled. As much as anything, Logano's rise has come after his services were no longer required at Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2012. Roger Penske snapped him up, largely at the urging of Keselowski, who played the team game Saturday.

"Yeah, it was a wild finish," he said. "It just came down to really a four-way battle between the 2 [Keselowski], the 20 [Kenseth], the 24 [Gordon] and 22 [Logano], and we had a great car for the short runs and we got up there challenging for the lead.

"The 20 car ran me off the racetrack, so I made sure to give him a bump, and that was what Joey needed to win the race. I am happy for his team and everybody at Team Penske. I wish it could have been us, but that was the way it goes."

So Keselowski was not thrilled with Kenseth. Gordon wasn't, either, and something between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears -- who finished 18th and 19th, respectively -- led to a scrum on pit road that saw Ambrose land a solid punch to Mears' left temple. No penalties have been announced by NASCAR, which said tapes will be reviewed before further comment.

Kyle Busch, who ran from 16th all the way to third on the final restart, took on the tire issues drivers encountered, saying that teams were not setting their cars up too aggressively but that the issues were because of the manufacturer. There were multiple blowouts and even a few fires during the race.

"The problem is they put a harder inside edge on the right front and right rear here, and that's eventually where we ride most of the time around the racetrack on that part of the tire," Busch said. "Why they went harder on that, I'm not sure.

"We were all basically on ice here. It was just like having a hard tire out there. ... Really tough for all of us to, for one, keep the tires under our cars, and for putting a harder compound on the outside edge having it cord and come apart, and, actually, it's supposed to be more durable I think was just not the right way to go obviously for Goodyear."

But it all worked out fine for Logano. Now, he's aiming higher.

"Having a couple wins this early in the season, and in two completely different racetracks, makes you very confident for the rest of the season," he said. "At this point, we really have nothing to lose. It's all about going for wins and having fun out there and making sure we're ready for when the Chase starts."