There is a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, as Jimmy Buffett once sang. And so it was at the rain-delayed Bank of America 500.
Originally scheduled to be run on a wet and nasty Saturday night, the race was postponed until Sunday. Those who headed back out to the track on Sunday morning found themselves bathed in sunshine and eventually would see Joey Logano dominate and win.
Sunday was a perfect October day in terms of the weather, but not so much in terms of the race. A green-flag pass for the lead at Charlotte Motor Speedway has become as rare a sight as Danica Patrick finishing in the top 10.
This is a track where NASCAR’s new low downforce package cannot come soon enough. That package has been experimented with at other tracks this year and absolutely must be instituted for all of the Charlotte events in 2016 to improve the mediocre racing. What you generally had for this race was 43 cars out for a no-passing-allowed Sunday drive – albeit at 185 mph.
“Just extremely hard to pass,” said Kevin Harvick, who finished second.
“It was so hard to pass out there today,” third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr. said. “Nearly impossible.”
Still, if you had gotten drenched with rain like so many of the people at the track had on Saturday, you would happily take a humdrum race on a sunny day over no race at all.
Certainly, Logano and his teammates were happy. Handed a spectacular car by crew chief Todd Gordon, Logano led 227 of 334 laps. It felt like more than that, as Logano found a home in clean air on the very lowest part of the track.
“I was pretty much like a catfish today,” Logano said. “I was just on the bottom.”
Although the racing itself was forgettable, it did bring the cream to the top. Three of the top four finishers – Logano, Harvick and fourth-place finisher Denny Hamlin – all made the Chase’s final four at Homestead in 2014. Of the top nine finishers Sunday, eight are currently competing in this year’s Chase.
Only Logano, however, by virtue of this win has a guaranteed spot in the next round as the playoff field begins culling itself from 12 drivers to eight. Races at Kansas and at the notoriously fickle Talladega remain before the next cut is made.
“Logano is the only one that’s going to sleep for the next two weeks,” Truex said.
The modest crowd at the speedway Sunday did not see a lot of good things from several of the fan favorites. Jeff Gordon finished a respectable eighth in his last race at CMS but never really contended. Jimmie Johnson had engine trouble and, after briefly leading, was 39th. “It’s a bummer,” Johnson said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. kept glancing his car off the wall – “I lost count of how many times we hit it,” he said – and was 28th.
Meanwhile, the No. 22 Ford was cruising to a victory that would have only been in jeopardy had there been a late caution flag. There wasn’t. Logano, 25, won for the fourth time this season. It may well come down to Logano and Harvick in late November for the title.
Harvick, the defending champion, remains as good a driver under pressure as there is in NASCAR. As Roger Penske, owner of Logano’s No. 22 Ford, said Sunday: “When you can beat the 4 car [driven by Harvick] any day, any time, that’s a big deal for us.”
But Harvick couldn’t catch Logano in the final laps. And by the time Logano stood on his car, brandished his steering wheel and screamed in Victory Lane, there was no doubt who the two kings of this day were: The sunshine and Logano.
1. Joey Logano
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kurt Busch
6. Carl Edwards
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Brad Keselowski
9. Ryan Newman
10. Kyle Busch
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
12. Matt Kenseth