RICHMOND, Va. — Going from the back to the front to win at Richmond International Raceway is certainly possible and not unheard of.
Doing it the way Joey Logano did on Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 is still impressive.
Logano qualified fifth on Friday but had to start at the back after a transmission change. In a race that was all about track position — the car up front stayed there for extended periods — Logano worked his way up methodically early in the race and was in position to get fresh tires and still stay ahead of all the other cars that did the same when the final caution came out on Lap 378 of 400.
Logano pulls away to win at Richmond
After a restart with about 20 laps to go, Joey Logano pulled away to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday.
That sequence followed a more pivotal stop on the previous caution with 85 laps to go when crew chief Todd Gordon had Logano stay out as others got tires so that Logano could gain the final chunk of track position he would need should the next caution fall their way.
Did that call by Gordon make Logano nervous?
“I didn’t really discuss it much with Todd,” Logano said. “My thought process was, ‘Oh no!’ right after we stayed out. But we were able to maintain the lead.
“I don’t think we would have been able to win the race and hold off Kyle [Busch] if it had stayed green. [But the final] caution came out.
“The boys had a great stop, which gave us good track position to pass the cars that stayed out. We were able to have a good start, work our way past those cars and tried to take off the best I could. … We executed under pressure today and brought a car home that was a fifth-10th-place car home to Victory Lane.”
It still wasn’t a done deal for Logano, as one more caution could have meant a restart with his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski lining up second to challenge him. If Logano thought his car was at best a 10th-place one, Keselowski’s appeared to be the best for much of the day, leading 110 laps to Logano’s 25.
“I was just hoping for another restart or the race to get extended for another 10 laps,” Keselowski said. “I think we had a ton of long-run speed today. That short run at the end … half the field came [to pit], half the field didn’t.
“I just got stuck in a lane of cars that didn’t go. By the time I did, [Logano] had a whole straightaway on me. I got it down to a couple of car lengths at the end. All in all, I’m happy for Team Penske with the one-two finish. We’ll take it and move on.”
The biggest issue for many on a day that featured a slick track was tire management and limiting mistakes. Tire management was tougher for some than others as any contact with another car seemed to cut a tire and send a driver into a spin like a chariot scene from “Ben Hur” within a lap or two of contact.
“Well, we got three-wide right on the start and then the 5 [Kasey Kahne] ran us up into the fence,” said Erik Jones, who was out of the race after only five laps and finished last. “I was trying not to wreck everybody, and we got run into the wall by the 5 and then a couple laps later we cut a left front, so it’s really unfortunate.”
The drivers didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat — despite some crews reporting in-car temperatures as high as 141 degrees — because it made for good racing throughout the grid. In a race that has traditionally been run at night, Sunday’s race was different for the drivers.
“Yeah, you know, the night — Richmond is such a great day or night race — I like racing at night here just as much as I like racing during the day,” said Denny Hamlin, who finished third. But it just seems like during the day, you really can make up some positions because the track is so slippery — that if you have a little bit more grip than the person in front of you, typically you can make a move.
“Where nighttime the speeds are a little faster, you’re always buried on the bottom for the most part, and it’s a little bit tougher to pass. So it just makes the racing a little bit better, the slicker the conditions.”
What really seems to have Hamlin concerned is how far behind he believes his Joe Gibbs Racing team and teammates — they’re still winless this year — are behind other teams, particularly Team Penske.
“We haven’t gotten better,” he said. “We’re really right where we were. I mean, if we go to a mile and a half [track] next week, we’re just as far off as what we were a week ago. Literally [Richmond is] just a short track, and so the driver can make a little bit more difference in aerodynamics and skew, and all that stuff doesn’t matter quite as much. But it’s still an issue for us.
“You’ve still got to have raw speed. You cannot just have a better setup than those guys and go out and beat them. You have to have a faster car, and we just you know, I’m optimistic. I hate to be pessimistic about today, but we’ve got to be real about it and realize, ‘Hey, it’s just a short track.’
“We still have a lot of work to do to catch up.”