By Rich Phillips
With all the attention being paid to the defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick and the Joe Gibbs Racing teams, it’s easy for some contenders to get overlooked. Joey Logano did his best on Sunday to remind everyone they shouldn’t overlook him. Logano posted the most laps led in his career, running out front for 227 of the 334 laps in dominating the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte. The win means that Logano is automatically into the Eliminator 8 round, and that he doesn’t have to sweat things out at the wild card of the round, Talladega. It also could be a sign that Logano is the man to beat for this championship.
Logano came up quickly through the ranks, running and winning many races in Legends cars and Late Models at a young age. That earned him the nickname of “Sliced Bread”, as in the greatest thing since. So much was expected of Logano when Joe Gibbs put him immediately into the XFINITY Series right after his 18th birthday in 2008. The next year he wound up in a Sprint Cup car, replacing Tony Stewart in the #20 for JGR. That’s where his career kind of stalled out.
Logano earned only two wins in four full seasons for Gibbs at the Cup level. The first was a rain-shortened victory at New Hampshire as a rookie, the second in 2012 at Pocono. Gibbs Racing didn’t seem very intent on hanging onto the young driver, so he left for Penske Racing in 2013, and that’s where he started to live up to his moniker.
In no time at Penske Logano looked like the guy he was built up to be. He won at Michigan in his first season and made the Chase for the first time in his career. After never finishing better than 16th in the season standings, Logano was eighth in 2013.
His career really took off in 2014 with a personal best five wins, starting with the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Just like this season, Logano won the first race in round two of the Chase to advance to the Eliminator 8. He made it all the way to the finale at Homestead only to have his car fall off the jack in a late pit stop, leaving him 16th in the race and fourth in the final standings.
There are reasons why Harvick and the JGR teams are all the talk. Of course Harvick is the reigning series champion and has a season-best eleven runner-up finishes. And eleven of the last 15 Sprint Cup races have been won by a Joe Gibbs driver. But in that same 15 race span Logano has gone to victory lane three times, including at Charlotte Sunday. We know Logano is going to the final eight, and he’s the only Chaser who doesn’t have to sweat Talladega as the elimination race in this round.
Contenders in Trouble
Two of the JGR drivers, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, are currently on the outside looking in. Kenseth had a disastrous day at Charlotte despite starting on the pole. He led 72 laps early, but pit road mistakes sent him back in the pack. Then contact from Ryan Newman put Kenseth into the wall, something he did several times later before finally ending his day in 42nd. Kenseth goes from first to last in the Contender 12, now 32 points below the cut line with two races to go.
Busch and Kyle Larson somehow tangle on the entrance to pit road. Both drivers were trying to fake others out on whether to pit or not. As Busch tried to return to the track he suffered damage from Larson trying to dive down. Rowdy finished 20th and is now ten points out.
Eight drivers will be alive when the Chase comes to No Limits Texas on November 8th for the AAA Texas 500, and Joey Logano will definitely be among them. Buy your tickets here.
Rich Phillips is the voice of Texas Motor Speedway and the host of the weekly radio show Texas Motor Speedway’s Total Access. Click here to find a station near you.
When NASCAR introduced this new Chase for the Sprint Cup format in 2014, they were hoping to produce some big game seven type moments. In the first elimination race of 2015 they got just that.
Going into the AAA 400 at Dover on Sunday most expected six-time champion Jimmie Johnson to sail on into the second round and for reigning champ Kevin Harvick to be knocked out. But 400 miles later we got just the opposite.
Big moments don’t strike any fear into Harvick. In three of the last five Chase races the driver of the number 4 car has faced elimination. In each of those five he’s answered the bell with the latest coming on the Monster Mile.
The run for Harvick began last November when he went to Phoenix last in points among the Eliminator 8 in the Chase. The good news for Harvick was that Phoenix is among his best tracks, and he earned his career best seventh win in the desert to advance to the Championship round the next week. Harvick also did it in dominating fashion, leading 264 of 312 laps.
The Sprint Cup Championship
The next week in 2014 was just as dramatic for Harvick and the series. For the first time ever four drivers were competing for the Sprint Cup title in the final race with nothing but their finishing order in that last race deciding things. Many thought it would take a win in the finale to claim the title, and that’s exactly what Harvick did. Once again, Homestead is a great track for Harvick with his best average finish. He held off Ryan Newman by one position to claim his first ever championship.
It’s Not Over in Dover
This past Sunday was a different story for Harvick. After poor decisions the previous two weeks, the reigning Sprint Cup Champion was facing the real possibility of being a shocking first round elimination victim. And unlike the previous two examples, this was not a favorable venue. Going into Sunday, Dover was one of five active tracks where Harvick had never won. The 4 team remedied that by whipping the field, leading 355 of 400 laps and claiming the win in the AAA 400. It turns out a win was the only way he could advance. Had Harvick finished second he would have been the first driver eliminated on points.
Six-Time has to wait for Number Seven
As surprising as it was for Harvick to come up big at Dover, it was even more surprising to see Jimmie Johnson fail. No track has been better to the 48 driver than Dover with a career high ten wins on the Monster Mile. He also entered Sunday with a 27 point cushion on elimination, giving no one any reason to think the six-time Sprint Cup Champion would be done. But done he is thanks to a mechanical failure. A broken rear axle seal sent Johnson to the garage for repairs and he wound up running 41st on the day, being knocked out by 12 points.
It was a close call for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Monster Mile. He ended the first round tied for the 12th and final spot with Jamie McMurray. The tie-breaker is the best finish in the first three races. Junior claimed that tie-breaker with his third place run on Sunday, just one spot ahead of McMurray who is eliminated.
The Contender 12 round of the Chase starts up Saturday night at Charlotte. After the next three races the field will be pared down to the Eliminator 8 and you can see them battle on Sunday, November 8 at Texas Motor Speedway. For tickets click here.
Rich Phillips is the host and producer of the weekly radio show Texas Motor Speedway’s Total Access. Click here to find a station near you.
The Loud and Proud Prerace Show with Sammy Hagar and the Circle almost feels like it was something Texas Motor Speedway did just for me. Like many of you I’m a longtime Hagar fan from Three Lock Box, Heavy Metal, and I Can’t Drive 55, to his Van Halen days with Best of Both Worlds and Why Can’t This Be Love. But it’s even more than a musical connection I have with Hagar, it’s the experience.
The Texxas Jam
Anyone who was around the DFW area in the 70’s and 80’s has certainly heard of the Texxas World Music Festival, known more commonly as The Texxas Jam. It was an annual rock festival held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas every summer from 1978-to-88 with many huge acts performing each year. Sammy Hagar was on the bill time after time.
Hagar was at the annual show a total of six times, among them 1986 as the leader singer for Van Halen. That was also the first time I ever attended a rock concert, a young teenager dropped off by his dad at the Texas State Fairgrounds to find my way to the Cotton Bowl. There were numerous bands that performed that day, but I could barely believe my eyes or my ears when the lights went out for the headliner and Hagar took the stage. Even though I was hundreds of yards away in the opposite end of the stadium, it seemed to me as if I was right in front of Hagar, signing along to song after song.
Hagar and Van Halen would come back for the final Texxas Jam in 1988, and I like many was a bit let down as the lead singer was losing his voice. During the course of the night he promised all of us in attendance he would return to Dallas for a free show to make it up to us, and believe it or not he did.
The Free Show
It was a weekday afternoon in 1991 that Sammy Hagar led his band out on stage in downtown Dallas. Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the West End, myself included. I’ll never forget nearly falling down multiple times as the crowd swelled back and forth, having to go up and down the curb on the edge of the street. But it was more than worth it to see the Red Rocker once again, and finally this time up close.
Hagar to No Limits, Texas
Hagar has been through Texas and the DFW area many times before and since, and with many different bands. Whether it be with Montrose, as a solo act, with Van Halen, Chickenfoot, or the Circle, he’s the ultimate party ring-leader.
I’ve seen hundreds of shows over the years at various venues all over North Texas. But it’s that first show with that party ring-leader that I’ll never forget. I’m planning to relive that magic coming up on Sunday, November 8th, when Sammy Hagar and the Circle come to No Limits, Texas.