Upon Further Review: Listening to good advice
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.”
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.”
— 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