Don’t hate the player, hate the game. A lot of people were upset with how the end of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 concluded. I mean, how can you blame them? The race was pretty good in fact for most of the way. It’s just that the final 42 laps were kind of blah.
It was a mixed bag of frustrations. That ending coupled with Joey Logano not necessarily being a fan favorite and winning, contributed to some fans voicing their frustrations when it was all said and done.
Don’t hate Logano though.
They didn’t have the best car. Kevin Harvick did. He led a race-high 85 laps. Denny Hamlin had the second best car but he took himself out when he got into the wall on Lap 180. He’d finish 15th after leading 58 laps.
“Still definitely had a race-winning car today. Just threw it in the fence,” Hamlin said.
Chase Elliott had the next best car. He led 48 laps, third most and only behind Harvick’s 85 and Hamlin’s 58. He just wasn’t as good on restarts when it mattered.
“Sometimes you try to get greedy (on restarts) and you end up hurting yourself,” Elliott said. “I feel like that’s kind of what I did. There on a couple of occasions, sometimes to have a big run and realize that not doing something with it is going to net you better in a couple of laps. That’s just something I need to do a better job of.”
It was Logano who took over the lead on the final pit stop of the day and at that point, had led just two laps all race. He held off Harvick who had led 85 laps, over the final 42 laps of green flag action en route to the win.
Track position. That’s how.
“I spent more time in the mirror than I did in the windshield there,” Logano said. “Pit stops got us positions and got us the lead.”
Harvick, agreed. He says Logano beating him off pit road following the final pit stop was the dagger.
“We just needed to get off of pit road first,” said Harvick. “It came down to controlling that restart, and we lost the lead there on the restart and wound up trying to battle and didn’t get the lead, but just really, really fast Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang. All our guys did a great job, and we had a fast car; we moved all over the racetrack, and we weren’t the best behind somebody, but I had a lot of options as they made the car better towards the end of the race. It was a good run for us. I wish we could have one, but we were one short.”
The other factor was this rules package. Harvick hoped lapped traffic would allow him to make his move, but it never happened.
“There were a lot of things that could happen with lap cars or him guessing wrong and me being able to run the bottom or run the top or get a good run or something along those lines, and it never materialized,” said Harvick after finishing second for the fourth time at Kansas.
“He did a great job of putting his car where he needed to, and we just never had an opportunity to capitalize on anything from a mistake side of it.”
Logano agreed with that assessment. That’s exactly what he did.
“The 4 (Harvick) was fast, real fast, especially down the straightaways,” said Logano. “I thought if I could hold him off the first 15 laps that I would have a chance. Dirty air was the best for us.
“As we caught lap traffic, I was able to gap ourselves as he got more dirty air, and I was able to draft somebody because I was a little slow down the straightaway.”
Harvick wasn’t mad at how Logano raced him in the end. It’s the nature of this package.
“Joey did just a good job of putting his car right in front of ours, and with this package every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away,” said Harvick. “We just had a little bit of trouble trying to get the nose to turn when he would take our lane. So, guys did a great job, brought a fast car and just came up one short.
“I think it’s how we race for sure; I think you’ve become used to that part of it. For me, it’s just a scenario that you just become used to, that’s part of what we race, and I definitely don’t make the rules, and just try to do the best we can each week with whatever situation that we have and go from there.”
Fans are growing tired of this 550 horsepower package not producing the action that was promised. I mean, just look at how great the start was of this race. Side-by-side, 2×2 and sometimes 3×3 racing. But, once the field settled in and started spreading out, you can’t pass.
Logano, had the clean air and all the sudden his car looked like it was great now. Was it better than the 4, 11 and 9? Absolutely not. But, clean air is king. All he had to do was block and defend his position like he legally is able to and he could cruise to a win.
Logano did just that. The fastest car couldn’t pass just one car in front of him in the end. That’s a problem.
Back in Vegas, the opening race of the Round of 12, Kurt Busch got lucky by running the second to last stint long hoping for a fluke caution to aid in his strategy. He got it. Busch, never relinquished the lead the rest of the way. He had a 13th-15th place car but clean air allowed him to win.
That’s this package now and that’s what’s coming back in 2021 too.
“You just never know how the cautions are going to fall, the strategy, anything like that,” Harvick said after his runner-up on Sunday. “You just have to go lap by lap and see where it falls.”
Pit stops, pit strategy and a little luck and anyone can win these races now. That’s why fans are frustrated.
Martin Truex Jr. meanwhile is frustrated too. He hasn’t won on a 1.5-mile track all season which is bizarre. He says the reason for the parity now is all due to how these cars race these days.
“I think it’s mostly the cars and the situations to where it seems we always have a late restart,” Truex said. “You look at the way that these cars drive and the way on restarts, we don’t have a lot of horsepower. You can’t get away from each other. You’re kind of at the mercy of the drag and the horsepower and we all end up in a big wad for 2-3 laps. That’s kind of where we’ve seen the different winners come from and it’s come at a pretty consistent basis.”
His teammate, Kyle Busch, agrees with that notion too.
“Any time you get back in the pack, it’s just so hard to pass and work your way up towards the front,” Kyle Busch said. “Everybody is so equal and with the dirty air, trying to get through some of that stuff is a challenge. But any time we got up front it seemed like our car was way different, way better and had a better opportunity to run in the top three, top five. Even when we were on old tires earlier in the day, that was probably the best it was and we held onto third, I think, for that run there.”
That’s why this package may have stats showing that on track racing is up compared to the past, but the eye test says different.