By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series completed its ‘West Coast Swing’ with the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, Joey Logano looked to rebound after a 31st place finish at Phoenix Raceway.
After unloading off the truck, Logano placed his No. 22 AAA Southern California Ford Fusion fifth in the first practice session. By the time qualifying started, Logano’s Team Penske Ford was one of several teams, including defending champion Jimmie Johnson, that were struggling to get through inspection. Unfortunately for Logano, time expired before he could make it on track to make a lap. He wound up with the 35th starting spot on the grid.
Logano was 12th and sixth fastest in the final two practice sessions.
At the drop of the green flag, several in the front of the field spun their tires. Further back in the field, Johnson and Logano began to move forward.
A handful of laps later, both drivers caught the wounded No. 2 Wurth Ford of Brad Keselowski. Keselowski got loose and spun after contact from Johnson. Logano took the high line and drove by the two as the caution flew just four laps into the race.
On the restart, Logano continued to move forward. By the first round of green flag pit stops, he was well inside the top 20.
When Stage 1 came to an end, Logano found himself seventh, netting him four Championship points.
When the race restarted, Logano’s march forward stuttered. Stage 2 was quiet for Logano, and he took the green and white checkered flag in the eighth position. This gave Logano another three Championship points.
On the restart, Logano began to move forward. Slowly, he climbed inside the top five. With many teams debating pit strategy, Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, elected to cut the final 80 laps into thirds, and called Logano in early. As the laps clicked off, it seemed that the strategy may not pay off. An untimely caution trapped Logano a lap down.
Logano restarted outside the Top 15, one lap down. A couple of quick back-to-back cautions and some frantic driving eventually allowed Logano to earn his lap back.
As the race went into overtime, Logano nearly contacted Ryan Blaney, forcing him to take evasive action and cut in front of Chase Elliott. Despite the slide, Logano still gained positions.
When the checkered waved, Logano was in fifth. This was the second top five of 2017 for Logano. He now sits fifth in points, 69 points behind Kyle Larson.
After the race, Logano was happy to leave with a top five,
“Our car was good on the short runs and not good on the long runs. We would lose too much time. We tried to short pit them and got caught with the caution and got stuck down a lap with 20 to go or so. We were able to recover and at one point I thought we were gonna win the race and had some trouble on pit road and lost some spots again, but we were able to make some of them back up and end up with a top-5 out of it with the Auto Club Fusion. It was up-and-down to say the least for the whole weekend for me.”
Logano and his team will now head to Martinsville Speedway where he hopes to finish strong.