Unlike some of the other competitors at the end 220 miles at Watkins Glen on Sunday, Joey Logano was all smiles when he climbed from the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford.
After starting the Go Bowling at The Glen from 20th, his win in the second stage and ultimate third-place finish felt like a triumph.
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And that’s a good feeling to have with just one race remaining in the regular NASCAR Cup season.
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“It was crazy, and I am ecstatic about what we did,” Logano, of Middletown, CT, said. “We got the stage win, and usually, if you get a stage win here, you bury yourself, which we did. We were 27th at the start of the third stage. We passed a bunch of cars and got to 17th and then we got stuck around 15th or so.
“I have to give it to Paul (Wolfe, crew chief). He put two tires on it and gave us some track position and then we had a couple of more good restarts and it ended up as a top three. Pretty good.”
Compared with the festive feel surrounding Logano’s team—and second-place finisher AJ Allmendinger’s crew just ahead—the mood was charged to the right of the No. 22 Ford, where Team Hendrick and Chase Elliott held their debrief.. After leading a race-high 29 laps, Elliott was knocked out of the lead by teammate Kyle Larson with five laps remaining in the contest. Larson went on to win at the Glen.
It wasn’t the first time on Sunday the Hendrick drivers collided. On the previous restart, Larson had crowded Elliott entering Turn 1. And it wasn’t the first time this season that an aggressive move by Larson rubbed Elliott the wrong way. With 20 laps remaining at Auto Club Speedway in February, Elliott took Larson and Logano three-wide for the lead. Larson retaliated with a block and Elliott ended up in the outside wall. Larson went on to win. In his post-race interview, Larson claimed he didn’t see Elliott as he came up the track.
Team owner Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon listened to Elliott’s concerns on pit road Sunday. Larson said he wasn’t proud of the move, but “I felt like that’s what I had to do at that moment to get the win.”
Certainly, the matter will be addressed in depth this week before the sport rolls into Daytona for the regular season finale. The company will want all drivers on the same page at a track where teammates play such a crucial part in the strategy of the race.
“For us, what’s most important is that we have a good, cohesive race team internally,” said Hendrick Motorsports president and general manager Jeff Andrews. “I think Chase did a wonderful job post-race. I commend him for all the frustration that was there, some of the things that could have been said.
“Again, we’re going to work on it internally. I can’t sit here and tell you that Jeff, Mr. Hendrick and I have a plan of something to do. We do have to have a cohesive race team going into these Playoffs. That’s what we’ll work on. We’ll work on that internally and be ready to come out strong, not only at Daytona next week, but for Darlington.”
While Hendrick works it out, Team Penske doesn’t have that pressure. Logano is on the same page with his teammates Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric. Perhaps the most pressing issue for Penske entering the weekend is to ensure Blaney advances into the Playoffs.
But Logano, who has finished sixth or better in his last four starts, couldn’t be in a better situation entering the Playoffs. He won from the pole at Darlington Raceway in May and has three wins at Kansas Speedway and two at Bristol Motor Speedway on the concrete.
“I think we’re honing in on where we need to be,” Logano said. “At Michigan, we had a solid execution race. Finished really well. Richmond, we led a bunch of laps. We didn’t quite win the race, but we like 200-plus laps which is good.
“I think we’re getting closer to where we need to be as we come around to the Playoffs. So, I feel decent about it. We’ve got to try to rack up as many points and make sure our batteries are charged when playoffs come around for the next 10 weeks.”