BRISTOL, Tenn. – Coming into the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Joey Logano had a confident, clear mindset.
Despite qualifying 26th for the final race of the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 16 Playoffs, he had a comprehensive understanding of how to succeed.
“You can’t race scared,” Logano said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s NASCAR Talk show. “You can’t fall to the back like at Talladega. You’re in it. You just hope you don’t get in something like that.”
In an almost self fulling prophecy, the 33-year-old Middletown, Connecticut native found himself in harm’s way throughout the race weekend. The two-time Bristol race winner only mustered a 24th place finish in Stage 1.
Logano’s situation did not improve in Stage 2 as he was relegated to a 31st place result. Clearly, the two-time and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion had a tremendous uphill battle to confront.
Once Stage 3 was underway, Logano was still in but barely over the cutline despite running outside of the top 30. Then, trouble struck for Logano in heartbreaking fashion in Turn 3.
On Lap 272, as Logano and the field tried to avoid a spinning Corey LaJoie, the latter clipped the former’s left rear wheel. With heavy damage to the left side door and left rear wheel, the Team Penske’s championship prospects vanished in a cruel manner.
After clambering out of his damaged No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang, Logano was evaluated and released from the infield care center. Despite facing a bitter defeat as a championship hopeful, the 2014-’15 Bass Pro Shops Night Race winner spoke factually about his season-to-date.
“Speed. Just a lot of things,” Logano said. “It’s what happens. You don’t go fast enough, you’re in the back and they wreck in front of you at Bristol on a restart and you’re going so fast that you can’t whoa up or turn or do anything and you get kind of pile drove into the wreck. It’s our own fault.”
While Logano tried his best to avoid LaJoie’s car, as he honed in on spotter Coleman Pressley’s cues, the adept racer had nowhere to run or hide from the Turn 3 fracas.
“Yeah, I saw the smoke,” he said. “I saw the 7 spinning. Coleman was saying, ‘He’s coming up. He’s coming up.’ As I was on the brakes to try to pull onto the bottom, I think it was Newman behind me, but I think someone hit him behind him and it was just kind of a chain reaction into it.
“Once I got hit I was like, ‘Shoot, I’ve got to go up now’ because I couldn’t make the bottom, so I committed to that and the hole closed up.”
The accident was a microcosm in Logano’s trying, frustrating championship defense season. In candid fashion, he pointed out how the usually pristine Team Penske stock car efforts had some kinks in their armor.
“I haven’t really felt like we’ve made any big gains that we need to and unfortunately it seems like it’s at every track,” he said. ” Typically you may say, ‘Oh, we’re off on a mile-and-a-half, but our short tracks are OK or your road courses are OK.’
“It just seems like we’re off everywhere right now, so we’ll see what happens here the rest of the race and if we get knocked out it gives us a few races to swing big and try to figure it out for next year. We just move forward from here.”
Nevertheless, Logano tipped his cap to crew chief Paul Wolfe on giving a fighting chance every weekend for him and his team.
“When you don’t score stage points, that just says you’re not fast enough,” he said. “We’ve been able to manufacture finishes like we did last year. Paul does a great job of giving me a chance to finish good.
“If this was a few years ago and there wasn’t stage racing, we’d be sitting in a lot better shape because we would figure out a way to close races, but we don’t score the points during the race because we’re just not fast enough.”
Much like Logano forecasted on NASCAR Talk, Bristol offers few chances to avoid calamity like a computer gamer trying to strategize a Minesweeper game. Through it all, Logano did everything he could to make the Round of 12.
Ultimately, Logano’s championship hopes wait until 2024. For now, Logano chalked up his frustration outcome with starting off on the wrong foot at Bristol.
“I knew my situation and what I needed to do, but it’s Bristol and there’s not really many things you do differently depending on your scenario,” Logano said. “There’s nothing I could have done there in that wreck.
“It’s just a product of being back there and the way we raced or anything like that didn’t affect that. The only thing that affected that is we were back there, so that’s it.”