Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Logano Nabs First Top Five of 2024 at Richmond

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

In racing, sometimes luck is on a driver’s side while others end up drawing the shortest straw. Some handled the drawing better than others as frustration loomed several contenders who either felt robbed out of a win or unable to capitalize in moments when it mattered most.

For Joey Logano, he ended up among several contenders who drew such straw as he finished second behind race winner Denny Hamlin in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. A much needed result as it marked his first top-five finish since Martinsville last November.

In some ways, despite not leading a lap in the race extended 407-lap contest, a runner-up finish felt like a win for Team Penske’s No. 22 team as Logano has finished 20th or worse four times in seven races.

Due to this, Logano hasn’t come close of being inside the playoff window as he’ll leave Richmond with a net gain of three spots in the regular season standings. An improvement from 22nd after Circuit of the Americas to 19th heading into Martinsville Speedway, 14 points below the cutoff line currently held by Brad Keselowski.

“This is definitely the hardest start to a season we’ve had,” said Logano. “Last week we started scratching and clawing and got a little bit of momentum through the last three races and ultimately get to here to where we were in the hunt again. 

“It feels good. It’s Richmond. It’s a unique racetrack. It’s our best racetrack as a team, so we expect to run good here. I don’t know if this completely takes us out of the deep end, but I think ultimately it’s a good momentum-builder for sure.”

As the race was winding down, it appeared Martin Truex, Jr. had the race in the bag with a fairly comfortable lead and had led over half the race.

However, Logano became quicker and was within a car length away from battling for a much-needed win as the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion hasn’t won in over a year.

Lapped cars played a role in Logano’s chase towards Truex and was running out of time. With two laps in regulation, the fifth and final caution came out in the most inconvenient time for the leader, but opened a new can of worms for Logano.

Over five seconds behind Truex and Logano was a frantic battle for fourth place between Kyle Larson and Bubba Wallace that went haywire. Both competitors entered the frontstretch when Wallace got into Larson, sending him around into the damped grass as Larson was able to keep his No. 5 Chevrolet under power.

With the front runners running on tires over 60 laps old, it came down to the final pit stop which the leaders didn’t hesitate on diving into pit road for a fresh set of Goodyear tires.

Logano’s crew were able to get the job done at 10.3 seconds, releasing Logano in a dead heat battle with Truex, who also had a 10.3-second stop, exiting pit road.

Their stop wasn’t fast enough compared to Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 crew, who completed their stop well below 10 seconds and exited out with the lead.

Logano exited out third behind the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates heading into overtime which had its share of controversies and tempers flaring. Hamlin wasted no time besting both Truex and Logano, leaving the latter no chance of competing for his first win of the season.

With the win out of reach, Logano’s best remaining option is taking second from a seething Truex on the final lap and cleared him before entering the backstretch.

As Hamlin went on to win for the second time this season and both Truex being mad at the world including Larson and Hamlin, Logano leaves the 0.75-mile circuit with his first top-three finish since Loudon last July.

When the dust settled, Logano knew as soon as Hamlin launched away from he and Truex, it was game over. Moreover, he spun his tires which curb stomped any hope of netting his 33rd career Cup victory.

“Not once (Denny) cleared (Martin). I had a chance. I didn’t get a good enough restart,” Logano explained. “I really wanted to pressure them down into one and force them to work up Truex, but I spun my tires there just trying to stay with them and that ultimately cost me to be close enough to do something. I don’t know. 

As a result of Hamlin’s restart, people criticized NASCAR for letting the race go as is with folks claiming he jumped the restart which senior Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer deemed Hamlin being close, but classified as a legal restart.

Logano understood losing out on a win stings, but was thrilled to be competitive again after being on a cold streak to kick off his 16th full season in the sport’s premier division.

“It feels good to be towards the front again,” said Logano. “We haven’t had a run like that in a while, but it also stings to be that close and not capitalize on the win. I guess I have mixed emotions. We had a really good car, a car that was capable of winning if we were in the front, but we didn’t execute everywhere else good enough to get there.”

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.