Joey Logano played his hand and looked every part the winner before incidents dealt a ninth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We’re not going to let our heads get down on this,” Logano said of his No. 22 team. “Still a strong day.”
It could have been better. The dominant driver in the South Point 400 fell out of contention when he was shuffled from the front and suffered damage from the tight racing between him, Daniel Suarez, and later Chris Buescher.
Logano led a race-high 105 laps and surprised many when he charged – quickly – from the 22nd starting spot to the lead in 34 laps. The defending champion picked up 10 extra points as well as a playoff point when he collected the Stage 1 win.
It looked like Stage 2 would be much of the same until Martin Truex Jr. arrived on the scene. With two laps to go in the stage, Logano got caught behind Matt DiBenedetto in Turns 3 and 4, which allowed Truex not only to close the gap, but go by for the lead. DiBenedetto is Truex’s Toyota teammate, and ironically enough Logano’s future Ford teammate when he moves to Wood Brothers Racing next season.
DiBenedetto did fall a lap down, but Truex slowed his pace off Turn 4 on the final lap to allow DiBenedetto to nose ahead and regain his lap. Truex won the stage, and Logano laughed at the situation, saying, “guess they’re still teammates.”
“It’s racing,” Logano said. “I mean, am I going to be a hypocrite and complain about something? No. It’s racing. He’s (DiBenedetto) trying to stay on the lead lap … and he had his teammate racing for a stage win in the playoffs behind him. What do you expect?”
What Logano didn’t shrug off was his contact with Suarez off Turn 2 in the final stage. Logano bounced off the wall when Suarez, underneath him, squeezing him coming off the corner.
“He crashed me, so I wasn’t too excited about that,” said Logano. “It wasn’t on purpose, he just made a mistake. Unfortunately, we were the one that paid the penalty for his mistake there.”
Logano also made contact with the left rear of Buescher’s car going into Turn 3. Damage repairs gave Logano fresh tires, which aided in his recovery effort.
“Had a really fast car, had a car that was capable of winning, we showed that early in the race,” Logano said. “That thing came from 22nd to first in, I don’t know, 30 laps or so. It’s incredible. As the sun went down I felt like we lost a little bit of our advantage. We got kind of shuffled on a restart, lost a lot of track position, and I assume the 41 (Suarez) didn’t realize I was on the outside of him and crashed our car and (we) did a good job fixing it and recovering with a top 10. Just needed some more cautions there at the end to recover and just didn’t have it.
“Overall, like I said, we got good points through the first couple stages and a decent finish, just frustrating when you have a better car.”