Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Joey Logano Steals Victory From the Jaws of Defeat at Phoenix

Who’s in the headline – In the final elimination race of the season, Joey Logano looked like he was about to slip out of contention for a transfer position. Fortunately for him, a caution flag flew, which bunched the field up and afforded him a final shot to reclaim a spot in the final four. A crash ultimately afforded Logano the position at the front of the field, which led to him leading the final two green flag laps and his seventh career Chase victory.

What happenedAlex Bowman won his first career Cup Series pole and took off at the drop of the green flag. He led for 92 laps before Logano grabbed the top spot after a restart. 27 laps after Logano went to the front, it was Jimmie Johnson‘s turn at the fore. Johnson led 13 laps before a caution saw him pull up past the pace car to pit. He was given a one-lap penalty that resulted in being dropped deep in the pack and eventually caught up in an issue for Austin Dillon that took him out of any contention for a win.

Logano went back to the point for 23 laps before Bowman returned to the lead. Another 101 laps went in the books with the No. 88 at the front before Denny Hamlin stayed out to take a shot at making the final four. Matt Kenseth took the lead on the penultimate restart but ended up being caught up on the final restart after 55 laps out front.

Why you should care – Kenseth was poised to be the second Joe Gibbs Racing entry in the final four when he came down on Bowman on that penultimate restart and ended up in the outside wall. That not only put Kenseth out of the title chase, but it opened the door for Logano to win the race. Kyle Busch ended up advancing, and very well might have without that incident, but Kenseth’s demise assured Busch would advance.

For the first time since the elimination format came around in 2014, Kevin Harvick was sent packing. Kurt Busch was never in contention during the three races of the round of eight so he joined Harvick as both of the hopefuls for Stewart-Haas Racing were eliminated at Phoenix.

What your friends are talking about – The four drivers in the final have all looked strong this Chase and this year. Whoever wins the title will be a deserving champion. Johnson has been strong for most of the Chase races but mistakes have taken them out of several opportunities to win. Homestead is one of the tracks where Johnson is still winless. He’s secured six titles there but has never had to perform at a race winning level. If the No. 48 wants to win the seventh title of his career, they cannot afford any mental mistakes. Meanwhile Carl Edwards goes back to the track where his heart was ripped out by Tony Stewart in 2011. It seems as though Edwards has been the least formidable of the JGR crowd this season but it doesn’t matter if they can put it together at Homestead.

Logano, on the other hand, has not been nearly as strong this season as he has in the past two but he’s stepped up when his back was against the wall the last two rounds. His team obviously has momentum going into Homestead so he very well could bring Roger Penske his second Cup series title. Kyle Busch has been showing greater consistency than anyone with eight top 10s in nine Chase races. He has to overcome his feeling of costing Kenseth a shot at the title thanks to his bump of Bowman on that late restart but, as the most recent winner at Homestead, he is poised to be the first back-to-back winner since Johnson won his five straight in 2006-2010.

While the sanctioning body has not announced the new title sponsor for the Cup series, they are in advance stage negotiations with Monster Energy Drink to fill that role, according to Motorsport.com. Monster controls 39 percent of the energy drink market and is a gateway to that elusive 18-34 demographic that NASCAR has been chasing since Goodyear invented tires. The word is that, should the company assume the title role, it will not immediately impact the sponsorship of Kurt Busch’s Cup ride.

Jake Leatherman passed away from Leukemia a week ago. The young man was well known in the Charlotte area after Molly Grantham reported on his rare leukemia over a year ago. He was well known in the NASCAR garage and, when his mother let it be known that he had hoped NASCAR people would show up at his funeral dressed in uniform, it was unquestionable that some of the members of the NASCAR community would step up. Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Ellis and JJ Yeley were among the over 60 NASCAR people who showed up for the funeral. In this modern world where so many people seem to be focused on themselves, it is refreshing to once again see how giving the NASCAR community is.

Who is mad – Kenseth has to be the maddest driver of any coming out of Phoenix. Kenseth methodically worked his way to the front of the field and was about to win the race when Michael McDowell wrecked. He then made a bad decision on the subsequent restart that resulted in his spinning into the outside wall of turn one. In that blink of an eye Kenseth’s hopes for a second career title went up in smoke.

Harvick is mad, not just from this weekend, but from this Chase. SHR was strong during the regular season again this year but they simply didn’t have speed when the Chase came around. He managed to win twice in the Chase but was terrible for most of the other races. He came to Phoenix, where he’s dominated most of the recent races there, and was just never legitimately in contention.

Bowman has to be mad for a couple of reasons. He was in contention to battle Kenseth for the win on the penultimate restart before Kenseth crowded him into the inside wall and eventually spun off of his nose. Then, when NASCAR lined him up for the next restart, they stuck him in the fifth spot. If he wasn’t going to be third then Kyle Busch should have been the race leader. The starting positions are supposed to be based on loop data when the caution flies but looking at the video the starting spots made no sense.

Who is happy Ryan Blaney was seldom on the television screen during the race on Sunday. He started eighth and slid back to the back quarter of the top 20 for the first third of the race. He climbed into the top 15 for the next half of the race before making moves toward the front to end up in the same eighth position where he started. It was another top 10 for Blaney this season and it put him in the highest finishing position for a rookie which garnered the Rookie of the Race award for him.

Speaking of quiet runs, Paul Menard scored a top 10 at Phoenix with almost zero fanfare. The last 15 races of this season have been tough for Menard, with one finish above 16th . He’s only scored three top 10s this year which means it will statistically be his worst season since 2009. Richard Childress Racing put Austin Dillon in the Chase but Ryan Newman and Menard have had less than stellar years. It has to feel good for Menard to head into the off-season with a good run.

It is tough being a multi-car team owner. On any given weekend you have at least as many teams to console as you do to congratulate. Joe Gibbs might have been down after Phoenix with Kenseth being wrecked out and Hamlin coming up short but, when he looks at it on the plane ride home, he’ll realize that of all of the teams who ran the entire season, he has half of the final four. That is a pretty strong accomplishment in the ultra competitive world of modern Cup racing.

When the checkered flag flew:
Joey Logano scored the 17th victory of his Cup career in his 290th start.

Logano has three triumphs in 2016.

This is his first win at Phoenix International Raceway.

Logano is tied for 48th on the all-time win list with Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Marvin Panch and Curtis Turner.

Logano leads all drivers in the elimination era of the Chase with seven wins.

Kyle Busch crossed the line as the first loser at Phoenix for his third career top 2 at PIR.

The second place run was Busch’s 36th career runner-up finish which is 19th on the all-time list.

Busch is 19th on the all-time wins list and on the all-time second place list.

This top 2 was Busch’s ninth of the 2016 season.

Kyle Larson rounded out the podium at Phoenix. This was Larson’s seventh top 3 run of the season.

This is Larson’s first career top 3 at PIR.

Larson has 13 career podium finishes which ties him for 92nd on the all-time list.

Ryan Blaney was the Rookie of the Race

Three drivers advanced to Homestead for the championship weekend via win. Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Joey Logano. Kyle Busch is the lone driver to make the final four on points.

What is in the cooler – Even a casual NASCAR fan had to enjoy the racing action on Sunday. The six Chase drivers contending for the final two spots in Homestead were within the top seven for much of the last portion of the race. Drivers went three wide trying to get to positions that would allow them to transfer, there were on-track passes for the lead and dive bomb runs across the flat of the backstraight affording people the shot to make a pass. Bogus debris cautions are the only thing that keeps it from falling into the true barn burner category. It earns five ice cold 8th Street Pale Ales from Four Peaks Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – One week left in the 2016 Cup season. It will culminate Sunday November 20th starting at 2:30 PM. The race can be seen on NBC and streamed on NBCSports LiveExtra. The action can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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It looked to me that, prior to the McDowell caution, Harvick had decided to not press Logano and let the running order stay as it was. He was informed over the radio that the 22 and 18 were tied on points but the 22 held the tiebreaker. I wonder if that perceived decision had anything to do with his dislike of Kyle Busch and the satisfaction of keeping the 18 out of the Great Homestead Championship Crapshoot.

Carl D.

I think Harvick accepted his fate prior to the McDowell wreck, but found new hope with the caution bunching the field back up. He may have felt that some physical racing up front might leave him with an opportunity to steal a win and advance to the final four. Just speculation.


Was there a full field of cars at Phoenix? I heard barely a word about any but the crapshoot teams.

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