Two laps. That’s all that separates Joey Logano from two straight wins to start the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. Logano, was leading on the final lap of last Sunday’s Daytona 500. He and his teammate Brad Keselowski collided on the backstretch of the last lap and crashed out.
A week later, Logano was once again up front in the end. The Team Penske driver took over the lead on Lap 57 when Chase Elliott pit from the lead under the “weather” caution. Logano, wasn’t even in the top five at the time, but they elected to stay out and inherit the lead.
The hope was for chaos. It nearly worked. Logano, held everyone off until Christopher Bell passed him coming to the white flag for the top spot. Logano, would finish second.
“I was trying to keep him behind me,” Logano continued. “We gambled by staying out and then I’d say it paid off overall, but you just hate being so close and one lap away. He started catching me a second a lap and it wasn’t like I blew any corners or anything, he was just faster. We just got beat, plain and simple. We’ve got to get our long run speed faster. We made some gains and gotten better with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. We’ve just got to be able to find a way to keep our rear tires on these things on the road courses.
“We’ve identified the issue, now we can go to work. He was the one that got through with tires. One more lap. One more caution lap would have been enough to at least have a door-to-door finish across the line maybe, I don’t know. It’s hard. When he starts catching you a second a lap. Gosh, I was just trying to get all I could on that restart, trying to get out there as far as I could because I knew as soon as those guys with tires were gonna catch us really quick, but we’ve made gains with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang on road courses, but we’re not quite good enough yet. As you can tell, our long run speed is off. We’ve got to keep working to get that better, but we maximized the day.”
Despite saying that, Logano says that they’ve still in the hunt to win races even without having the best cars yet.
“Yeah, any way you look at it, every race we’ve run so far, we’ve been in contention to win,” Logano said. “I said it to the guys before the race today. Once again, we were in contention to win.
“We’re doing the right things. Look at the Duel. We almost won. Clash we finished third. Daytona 500 we were leading on the last lap, crash. Then you come here, you’re leading with two to go, get passed.
“We’re there. I think we’re doing a good job. When I think of the execution of this race team, we’re doing all the right things. We just got to get a little bit faster. That’s the biggest thing that I see right now. Not that we’re far off, right? We’re right there in the hunt. But I’d say we’re outperforming the car at this moment. We just got to get our car a little better.”
If they don’t crash in the ‘500, he could have won. He says if the cautions went one lap longer, he was likely to win again on Sunday on the road course.
“Yeah, just too many laps,” said Logano. “I was hoping when the pace car was slowing down, he was trying to clean up the mess off of turn three, he was slowing down. Keep up the speed, click off as many laps as possible.
“Honestly, that’s what it comes down to, is one lap. Could have made the difference. You hate being that close, but at the same time I look at where we’ve come from. We had a really solid race. We were two solid stages, second and third in the stages, a second overall. That’s a great day any way you look at it.
“It’s just getting passed coming to the white flag stings a lot. Congratulations to Christopher, obviously, his first win. That one is very special. The way he did it was very impressive. Just stings a little bit for me at the moment if I’m being honest.
“They had a great car. They were able to hang with the 9. Seems like the Gibbs cars definitely made a substantial gain on keeping up with the 9. I feel like we’ve made a gain as well, but we’re still a step behind on the long runs. Short run speeds are very competitive, our braking is competitive. We just fall off on tires too hard. Just got to figure that out.
“Anyway, identified the issue, now it’s time to go to work.”
Logano, said that he hoped Bell would have let his inexperience show in the end, but the younger driver showed while he and the younger generation are really the future of this sport. Bell, never flinched.
“I was hoping him trying to chase me down, he was going to make a mistake as an inexperienced race car driver. You didn’t see it happen. You didn’t see it with Ty last night either.
“These younger guys coming in, not that Christopher is that young, but he just looks like he’s really young. He had a lot of racing experience. He’s been in these situations a lot where he’s racing for the win, whether in the midgets, whatever dirt cars these guys drive. You’ve seen him race for wins late in the race. That experience probably helped him a lot tonight.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously he’s an amazing talent. If you’re at this level, everyone is pretty talented at this point. 30th place is really talented, I promise you that. It’s all about putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, and today they did.
“Adam Stevens, a tremendous crew chief. I worked with him for quite some time over there. I know what he’s got for a team around him. He’s going to be successful because of it, because of his talent and the talent of the team.”