Category archive: Joey Logano
Allow Blount to be blunt on a few things.
NASCAR got a message this week: Loosen up and chill out.
Major penalty reductions came for Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing after NASCAR had basically thrown the book at both organizations.
The JGR reversal Wednesday was a stunner, from a six-race suspension for Jason Ratcliff, Matt Kenseth's crew chief, to only one race. And a huge change to Kenseth's points penalty, from 50 down to 12. He also gets the three Chase bonus points for the win at Kansas reinstated.
This move was the right call, but highly unusual to see the three-person appeals panel (the first level of the NASCAR appeals process) make such a surprising reversal. The one connecting rod that was barely too light (about three grams, the approximate weight of two paper clips) in Kenseth's car was no performance advantage and didn't come from JGR. It was a part from Toyota Racing Development.
Nevertheless, a major penalty revision for any engine violation doesn't happen, until now. It's an indication that NASCAR needs to re-evaluate the severity of some of its punishment decisions.
The JGR decision came one day after chief appellate officer John Middlebrook reduced the suspensions for the Penske Racing team members from six championship races to only two for the rear-suspension violations at Texas.
Losing Ratcliff for only one race is a big help to Kenseth, but losing crew chief Paul Wolfe for only two championship points races instead of six is a much bigger break for Brad Keselowski. Few drivers are as reliant on their crew chief as Keselowski is with Wolfe, arguably the best man on the box in the sport today.
The decision by Middlebrook to reduce the lengths of the suspensions for all the Penske brain trust is much bigger than reducing the lost points or the fines, which he didn't do for Keselowski or Joey Logano's team. The 25-point penalty and the $100,000 hit to each team will remain, but Keselowski and all the Penske guys should be thrilled about the partial reprieve on suspensions.
Middlebrook is proving to be a fair man. When he eliminated most of the penalties on Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy team last year after the body violations at Daytona, some people accused him of playing favorites with his old buddy, team owner Rick Hendrick. Nonsense.
Middlebrook carefully studies each appeal and listens intently to the arguments being presented. He is not a shill for NASCAR or any team owner. He simply wants to come to a reasonable conclusion.
Middlebrook is not toeing the party line for NASCAR. Neither did the three-person appeals panel Wednesday on the JGR penalties.
No one can claim NASCAR'S appeals process is a kangaroo court. To the contrary, this week's penalty reductions are a message that NASCAR needs to lighten up on its draconian penalties.
No driver has finished on the lead lap of every race this season, which shows how difficult it is to do.
Paul Menard was the only one left until failing to do so Sunday at Talladega. Four drivers have done it in nine of 10 events -- Johnson, Keselowski, Aric Almirola and Menard, but Menard and Almirola are the only drivers in the top 10 who don't have a top-5 finish.
Amirola ranks seventh in the standings after posting four consecutive top-10s, but the one lap he led at Talladega is his only lap led this season. Menard is eighth in the standings with only three laps led.
What does that tell us? Both Almirola and Menard are racing consistently and not making mistakes, but they aren't serious contenders until they can challenge for victories.
Kyle Busch is doing things in the opposite fashion of Menard and Almirola. Busch has an average starting position of 6.4, but an average finishing spot of 16.9, a minus-10.5 and the worst ratio of any full-time driver in Cup.
Busch can win races, as he has proven twice this season. But consistency is lacking. Some of it's bad luck and some of it isn't.
By the way, Danica Patrick is a plus-5 with an average starting spot of 31.1 and an average finish of 26.1. But the farther back you start, the easier it is to move up.
Take J.J. Yeley, for example. He's at a plus-7.8 (the best among full-time Cup drivers), starting 37.0 and finishing 29.2.
Futility, thy name is Kvapil. Travis Kvapil has the fewest points of any driver who has made all 10 starts this season. His average finish is 33.7.
Kvapil ranks 37th in the standings, two spots behind AJ Allmendinger, who has only four starts. Kvapil is the only driver to start all 10 races without finishing on the lead lap.
When Judgment Day came Wednesday, Penske Racing found out NASCAR has no mercy. NASCAR has sent a couple of messages this season for every team to hear:
Do not criticize the new Gen-6, and more importantly, do no tamper with it. Hell hath no fury like a NASCAR judge.
Other than parking a team for a race, it doesn't get worse than this:
" Drivers Keselowski and Joey Logano docked 25 points each, along with 25 owner points taken from both cars.
" Crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon suspended six championship races (plus the All-Star Race) and fined $100,000 each.
" Car chiefs and the lead team engineer for both cars also suspended six points races.
" Penske Racing team manager Travis Geisler suspended six points races.
Jared C. Tilton/Getty ImagesPenske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano got docked 25 championship points each by NASCAR.
In other words, the entire brain trust for both Sprint Cup teams was gone in an instant, a severe punishment for unapproved changes to the rear-end housing on both cars at Texas.
Penske Racing officials immediately sent out a brief statement saying they will appeal. I would hope so. What do they have to lose?
The appeal means everyone keeps working for the moment, but it could be only a temporary reprieve.
And NASCAR made it crystal clear Wednesday it won't tolerate any monkey business when it comes to "pushing the envelope" on the Gen-6. This is one of the harshest penalties ever imposed by the sanctioning body.
Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 Toyota team also were penalized Wednesday, but Truex must feel like his team got off light by comparison. Truex was docked six points and crew chief Chad Johnson fined $25,000 for the car being too low in a postrace inspection at Texas.
And Camping World Truck Series veteran Ron Hornaday Jr. also got off relatively easy by avoiding a one-race suspension. Hornaday was docked 25 points and fined $25,000 for deliberately wrecking Darrell Wallace Jr. under caution in Sunday's race at Rockingham.
Kyle Busch fans will howl over that one since Busch was parked for one weekend two years ago when he pulled a similar move on Hornaday at Texas. Hornaday caught a break for previous good behavior.
But the Penske boys were tossed in the NASCAR dungeon in chains. As harsh as it is, the Chase format makes the punishment survivable. Had this happened at the start of the 10-race playoff, game over.
Keselowski can make up the 25 points since it comes long before the Chase starts. It's a little tougher for Logano, because the points reduction would drop him out of the top 10 for now, but not an insurmountable loss.
The real punishment comes in losing the key personnel for both cars. Other than Chad Knaus, who led Jimmie Johnson to five consecutive championships, Wolfe may be the best crew chief in NASCAR today.
Speaking of Knaus, he should send a text to Keselowski and Wolfe that reads: "Welcome to my world, boys. NASCAR has a new champ to pick on."
Few drivers rely on the expertise of their crew chief more than Keselowski does with Wolfe. He's Brad's lifeline.
And any chance of keeping things running smoothly in his absence was eliminated by suspending car chief Jerry Kelley and team engineer Brian Wilson as well.
Logano faces the same fate, just when it appeared he was starting to feel comfortable with his new team. Now both teams will have to fight their way through it.
Until now, inspections had gone relatively smoothly for the Gen-6, so what changed?
Texas was the seventh race of the season in the new car. Teams are starting to feel comfortable with it, and consequently, willing to try more things to make it faster. The more you know, the more you're willing to take a few risks.
No, no, no, boys. Big Brother NASCAR is watching. The Penske punishment essentially tells all the teams, "Don't try it. We will catch you and you will pay."
NASCAR went with a new points system in 2011 based on one point per finishing position. It's better than the old system, but it still results in way too big a penalty for a bad finish compared to a good one.
For example, Joey Logano has one top-10 finish in the first five races (third at Fontana) and ranks ninth in the standings. The California race was the only time this year Logano has finished better than 12th.
Ryan Newman has finished better than 12th three times. He has three top-10s (including a fifth in the Daytona 500) but ranks 20th overall.
Huh? Newman crashed at Phoenix and finished 40th and had an engine failure at Las Vegas and finished 38th. A DNF (did not finish) is a points disaster.
Busch had an engine failure at Daytona and finished 34th. Biffle hasn't finished worse than 17th, which he did twice. But shouldn't the man with three top-5s and a victory in the first five races rank ahead of the guy with no top-5s?
Consider this oddity: A driver could win three times in the first five races and be lower in the standings than a driver who didn't post a top-10 in those five events.
Five finishes of 11th (without leading a lap) would give a driver 165 points.
Another driver could win three times and lead the most laps (good for 144 points), finish 34th in the other two (good for 20 more points), and be one point behind the driver who didn't post a top-10.
That's not going to happen, of course, but you get the point, no pun intended.
The good news is the wild-card format (basing the final two playoff spots on victories for those drivers 11th through 20th) means the driver who wins races is likely to make the Chase if he ranks in the top 20.
But the system should have more of a reward for finishing well or less of a punishment for having a bad day.
• Joe Nemechek is really racing: In 98 Cup starts over the previous three seasons, Nemechek was running at the finish only four times. He has equaled that amount in the first five races this season.
Nemechek's only DNF this season came in the Daytona 500. He isn't able to race competitively because he just doesn't have the funding or the personnel to do it. But he's racing until the end, giving it all he has, and that's good enough for me.
Hamlin has an L1 compression fracture now because he hit a concrete wall head-on that didn't have the SAFER barrier in front of it.
It's absolutely inexcusable, after almost a decade of SAFER barrier use by NASCAR, that a car still can slam into a concrete wall that doesn't have the collapsible barrier in front of it.
But it happened to Hamlin on Sunday on the final lap with a vicious crash into an inside wall at Auto Club Speedway that didn't have the SAFER barrier in place.
When will all these speedways learn that any concrete wall, no matter where it is around the track, endangers the lives of drivers if the wall doesn't have the SAFER barrier in place?
Does someone have to die before this situation changes?
Frankly, all these tracks have been lucky it hasn't happened. Changes to the cars, along with head-and-neck restraints, have prevented serious injuries in many severe crashes, just as the SAFER barrier has.
But it's Russian roulette to have any exposed concrete wall, which likely caused Hamlin's injury Sunday.
No one can say for sure the SAFER barrier would have prevented Hamlin's back fracture. But the odds of him coming out of it without a back fracture would have improved dramatically had his car hit the collapsible wall.
Some fans are placing all the blame on Logano for what they see as an inappropriate payback move at the end of Sunday's race.
The two drivers were going all-out to win the race at the end. Had the situation between the two of them been more cordial, maybe the sheet-metal banging at the end wouldn't have happened. But maybe it would have since both drivers wanted to win.
Logano made a comment about Hamlin he shouldn't have made afterward: "He probably shouldn't have done what he did last week [wrecking Logano at Bristol], so that's what he gets," Logano said.
When Logano made the statement, he didn't know Hamlin was injured.
But it isn't like Logano went out and hunted down Hamlin to get even. They were side by side on the last lap, battling to take the checkered flag.
Hamlin may miss several races because of his injury, and it could cost him a spot in the Chase.
Hopefully, that won't happen. If it does, don't blame Logano. Blame the track for not having the SAFER barrier in front of the concrete wall.
Topping the list is Kyle Busch. Rowdy has posted five top-10s, including four top-5s, in the seven Chase races.
Give him credit for acting like a pro and showing some class when he probably could have punted Johnson to win in the final laps at Martinsville last weekend.
"He's a five-time champion for a reason," Busch said of Johnson after the race. "I was getting into [Turn] 1 and got to his rear bumper. I didn't want to move him out of the way."
Busch knows Johnson is running for the title. It was not the time or place for the bump and run, and it will pay dividends if the situation is reversed in the future.
Joey Logano is another Chase outsider having a strong run down the stretch. Logano started the Chase with three consecutive top-10s and has four in the seven playoff races. The crazy last lap at Talladega, where he ended up 32nd, caused his only finish worse than 19th.
It bodes well in two ways. First, it's a positive sign for Roger Penske that Logano can get the job done next season when he moves into the No. 22 Ford. Second, it's great news for Matt Kenseth that he is taking over a No. 20 Toyota team at Joe Gibbs Racing that is capable of contending for the title.
Both Logano and Busch have more top-10s in the Chase than JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, who fell out of title contention with a 33rd-place finish at Martinsville. Busch's average finish in the Chase is 11.4, compared to 12.4 for Hamlin.
The car that some people may have overlooked is the one with three drivers -- the No. 55 Toyota at Michael Waltrip Racing. Mark Martin and Brian Vickers have combined for four top-10s in the Chase, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
It appeared Waltrip was headed to victory at Talladega before Tony Stewart tried to block him on the last lap and started the big one at the end.
Martin was third at Dover and sixth at Charlotte. Vickers was ninth at New Hampshire and eighth at Martinsville.
A lot of the credit goes to crew chief Rodney Childers. He has done a remarkable job keeping the car running up front with three drivers, all of whom do things differently and want different setups.
The No. 55 is 14th in owner points this season with 15 top-10s. The same trio will share the driving duties on the 55 next season, but you have to wonder how good that car could be with the same driver at the wheel every week.