By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
On a race weekend dominated by Team Penske, their driver Joey Logano’s quest for victory came up short after finishing third during Sunday’s incident filled O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
A top-five result brought much needed confidence for the 30-year-old as he finished outside the top-10 in five out of the last six races.
“Overall, I’m proud of what the Shell/Pennzoil Ford team did today, scoring a second-place in the second stage and a third in the finish,” said Logano, who led 22 laps. “It’s not a win, especially when you come to Texas and all the fans here. Thank you guys for coming out, but it’s not the win we were hoping for as I look at the fire in Victory Lane is super-cool, but it’s progress. We’ve had a little rough streak on these 550 (horsepower) races, so I’ll take it as a little bit of a momentum-builder.”
Prior to the 334-lap race, Roger Penske’s entries have won 4-out-of-7 races as part of the “#Penske8Wide” weekend where the organization competed in four different sanctioning bodies (NASCAR, INDYCAR, IMSA and Supercars) at four different venues (Texas, Iowa, Sebring and Sydney) across two continents (United States and Australia).
One of the four wins took place in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race where Austin Cindric was awarded the win after Kyle Busch was disqualified. Thus, the pressure was on for Logano and his other two teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski to make it 5-of-8.
For much of the afternoon, it was Blaney who had the Ford Mustang capable of making the feat possible after winning the first two stages before ultimately finishing seventh. On the contrary, Logano’s No. 22 Pennzoil Ford struggled in the opening stage as he crossed the line in 20th.
From there, pit strategy and key adjustments resulted in a much more satisfying second stage for Logano as he led several laps and finished behind Blaney to collect nine stage points.
Things got hairy in Stage 3 when Logano restarted fourth on Lap 218 as a strong day was almost cut short after making contact with a sideways Blaney in Turn 3. Logano had to check up which bunched up the field and it ultimately led to a multi-car crash that brought out the red flag.
The Spring 2014 Texas winner continued on with his race and led from Laps 291 to 304 before making his final pit stop.
After a few caution periods, Logano kept his Mustang at full song as he had a hard fought battle against Kyle Busch for the third position. The duo showed no mercy towards each other and when the dust settled, it was Logano fending off Busch to get the spot.
Logano said what kept him from catching the Richard Childress Racing duo of race winner Austin Dillon and runner-up finisher Tyler Reddick was air pressure, taking him 15 laps to get his No. 22 Ford rolling.
“Air is what cost us there. Air-pressure in the tires, just on the splitter too much firing off,” said Logano. “Our long run speed was incredible, but it took too long and the guys up front were smart, they put fuel only and kept their car off the splitter in three and four over the bumps and maintained the clean air and just couldn’t do it. I could make runs, but I’d get to three and four and start chattering up the racetrack and had these big moments.”
Logano added that tire wear was too good for the second straight race, no matter how many laps a driver has been running them and it dictated the decision for RCR to stay out on older tires.
“The tire wears down to the cords, but it does not slow down. They’ve noticed that and made the calls to do that. Ultimately, they made the right call because they realized that,” Logano on RCR’s strategy. “(The) tires never slows down. Heat may affect it here and there. Balance can make it slow it down a little bit. For the most part, once you get clean air, you can run the same speed as you do.”
Despite not capturing his third win of the season, it was Logano’s second top-five since racing resumed two months ago and his best finish since his most recent triumph at Phoenix Raceway in March.
Logano said the result was super important to the No. 22 team, but there’s still room for improvement as he feels they’re not fully back like they were before the pandemic.
“Our sport goes in cycles. It goes up, you go down. You go up, you go down. When you’re down, you got to fight harder than ever trying to figure out where is it,” said Logano. “The first place you look is always inward before anywhere else. Then you try to find your weaknesses and then you start working on them.
“Whether it’s myself or within the team, all the way through. I feel like we’ve identified weaknesses and we’ve been working on them to get it better. The process that we’ve made feels real good.
“We’re not there. I don’t feel like we’re all the way back. We weren’t the fastest, but we’re in the ballpark now. Before we were running a down lap in 20th, but we’re closer. We can pass cars. The front end works now and we’re starting to see our reward.”
Four days from now, the 19th race of the Cup Series campaign rolls into Kansas Speedway for the running of the Super Start Batteries 400. Live coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN where Logano is looking to score his third Kansas triumph.