A race filled with cautions ended up benefiting the guy with the least sense of caution.
Joey Logano’s crew chief tells him to always stay on the offensive. They set up his Penske Ford to drive the wheels off and that was the tactic that won the Sylvania 300 Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Logano kept winning a series of restarts on a day when restarts were constant. This race set the season record for Sprint Cup races with 15 cautions. That has become Logano’s knack at this level.
“We took the opportunity to come down pit road and put Joey in offense,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “Put four tires on (when other teams chose two), fuel in and let him do his thing.
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“I think it was awesome to watch him restart 16th (mid-race) and in four laps he was sixth. High, wide and handsome…Just put him in a position where he could do what he’s really good at, that’s wheeling a race car. Not having him back up, letting him go forward.”
Logano is a risk taker, which isn’t necessarily the best strategy in these Chase races. Four of 16 drivers will be eliminated from the Chase field after Dover, and running out of gas or wrecking could have major consequences over each three-race round of the playoff.
But by winning New Hampshire – Logano beat out second-place Kyle Larson and third-place Kevin Harvick – Logano guaranteed being one of 12 drivers to advance to the next round.
“Restarts, you never know what is going to happen. But Todd gives me a really good car that I can be aggressive with on restarts,” Logano said. “I think that’s a big deal. The more control I am in, the more aggressive I can be. The more aggressive you are on a restart, the more you’re in control of the restart.
“It’s not just putting (four) tires on it that makes it like that. It’s having a car that’s capable of running in traffic. It’s something we work on in practice, making sure we have something that’s going to be good in traffic and restart well.”
That reasoning was tested frequently, with nine cautions in this race’s final 100 laps. It was a day full of wrecks, many by prominent Chase drivers with plenty at stake.
Denny Hamlin got the worst of it, first when his Toyota had a fuel problem and then when he couldn’t avoid a wreck in front of him, sliding on loose substance. The damage put his car into the garage and he eventually finished 38 laps off the pace.
Plenty of other Chase drivers had crashes: Jeff Gordon’s day was ruined late when he hit the wall and finished 26th. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth all suffered damage that disrupted their performances.
As Harvick described it, this was a race where “cautions bred cautions.”
There was so much tape holding down the hood of Kyle Busch’s Toyota, it was hard to read “M&M” by the race’s conclusion. But at least he finished eighth. Fellow Toyota driver Kenseth ended up 21st.
“There are only three Toyotas in this (Chase) deal, so we’ve got to try to get somebody going, get some kind of momentum,” Hamlin said. “Cause right now we’re all struggling for different reasons.”
Quite the opposite for the Penske Fords. Keselowski won the first Chase race in Chicagoland, so he’s already advanced to the second round. Even after scraping the wall, he was still fast enough to lead in this race’s last third.
Keselowski said that under these rules his team would have the liberty to “goof off” in New Hampshire and Dover, but that certainly wasn’t the tone Sunday. Walter Czarnecki, vice chairman of Penske Racing, explained the approach:
“Somebody (said to) me a minute ago, ‘This must make you feel pretty good, both cars advancing to the next round.’ I said, ‘Let me tell you something about this group: We’re worried about Dover right now.’
“That’s our intent – one race at a time, and that’s how we’ll proceed.”
Sure has worked so far.