By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Joey Logano looked like the runaway championship winner heading into Martinsville last fall, until a retaliatory crash at the hands of Matt Kenseth sent Logano’s chances for his first championship skidding into the wall.
Many preseason polls had Logano as the favorite to hoist the Sprint Cup at the conclusion of the 2016 season. However, prior to the All-Star race this past weekend, things hadn’t been going according to plan for Logano and his No. 22 team.
Through 12 races, it looked like Logano was suffering from a hangover from the disappointment of how his year finished out last year. Logano had racked up just six top-10 finishes, and he ranked eighth in the championship standings, which are good numbers for most drivers, but Logano was expected to be great this season.
Adding to the frustration was the fact that Logano had been swept up in crashes in each of his last three points paying races. It just seemed like nothing was going right for the young Connecticut-native.
Then came the Sprint All-Star Race.
Logano started eighth, and led 10 laps in the first segment. Through the rest of the race, Logano kept himself in contention, but he didn’t really show signs of breaking through to victory lane for the majority of the night.
Then during the final 13 lap segment, the No. 22 came to life. Logano worked his way to second place, and he put on a thrilling battle for the lead with Kyle Larson. Eventually Logano would get the better of Larson, and as Larson slammed the wall with three laps to go, Logano rolled to victory for his first ever victory in NASCAR’s All-Star night.
The win in the non-points paying race was awesome, but the true question now is: Could this be where Logano and the No. 22 team wake up?
Logano and the rest of the Sprint Cup Series will head back out to Charlotte Motor Speedway again this weekend, for the season’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600.
In Logano’s favor is the fact that he and crew chief Todd Gordon kept improving their race car last Saturday night, and the car was at its best on the final run of the evening. If they can replicate that in Sunday’s race they should be in the hunt for their first points-paying win of the season.
Another thing that stands out to me is how Logano has performed at similar tracks this season. Logano finished second at Las Vegas and fourth at Texas Motor Speedway, which are both mile and a half tracks similar to Charlotte.
Logano also has a sporty record at this track. He has eight top-10 finishes in 14-career starts in Charlotte, including a winning effort last fall where he led a grand total of 227 laps.
Logano should be stout on Sunday, and if he breaks through and secures a spot in this year’s Chase, the All-Star Race weekend could very well be remembered as the weekend where Logano and company turned things around and began chasing for a championship. Only time will tell, but things look to be trending in the right direction for Logano and Gordon.
Image: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images