Race Weekend Central

OK, Do We Say Joey Logano Is Back Now?

Joey Logano absolutely smoked the field last Sunday night (May 19) in the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway. The Team Penske driver led every lap but one of the 200 laps on his way to a million-dollar payday and the traditional oversized novelty check.

While sure, a million bucks doesn’t go as far as it used to, the Connecticut driver could still buy these three houses just up the road from North Wilkesboro Speedway, or this condo in Beverly Hills. He could buy a new Ford Maverick for each of his 40 closest friends or send all three of his kids to Harvard.

To be fair, he could do it all anyway, as the two-time Cup Series champion was already a wealthy man. But I’ll bet you the one thing he truly wants, he still can’t buy: a spot in the 2024 NASCAR playoffs.

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After 13 (points-paying) races, Logano has scored just three top 10s, including a single top five, a lonely runner-up result at Richmond Raceway. One of two (three if you count Harrison Burton’s Wood Brothers satellite team) Penske drivers currently outside the playoffs, Logano sits 18th in the points standings, 30 points down on 16th-place Chase Briscoe. He’s nursing a 44-race winless streak, the longest he’s gone without visiting victory circle since he adopted the No. 22’s Pennzoil colors in 2013. 

And that winless streak continues into next week’s Coca-Cola 600. It might be a nice bonus, but Logano is aware the All-Star doesn’t count.

“We still need points,” Logano told NASCAR.com’s Alex Weaver from Wilkesboro’s victory lane. “We still need to get ourselves locked into the playoffs and all that … nice to prove to ourselves we’ve still got it, we’ve just got to go execute next week again.”

Only one All-Star Race winner has missed the playoffs since the 16-driver format began in 2014: Jamie McMurray, in that inaugural year. Erik Jones in 2020 and Jimmie Johnson in 2019 missed the playoffs after winning the non-points Clash. 

There’s perhaps more relevant and more unfortunate precedent: Logano himself missed the playoffs in 2017 despite claiming two checkered flags: one in the Clash and one infamous encumbered victory at Richmond Raceway, where he was allowed to keep the trophy and some (not all) of the points, but not the playoff eligibility. Despite a strong start to the 2017 season, a bad run of form and frequent DNFs in the months after Richmond dropped Logano below the cut line, and he missed the postseason completely, the lone blemish on an otherwise Penske perfect playoff record – so far. 

At the start of May, Logano told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he was “start[ing] to hit the panic button a little bit … swinging the bat at anything you can think of.”

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Well, in all that swinging the No. 22 team seems to have hit something. Whether it’s knock-on effects from the 880-something laps Logano logged at Wilkesboro during a tire test in April, or the rising tide of Ford teams figuring out the aerodynamics of the new Mustang Dark Horse body that happened sometime before Chris Buescher’s oh-so-close fortnight at Kansas Speedway and Darlington Raceway, the Logano we saw Sunday night was the one we were used to, not the one we’ve come to expect.

As we’ve been so often reminded in a week that saw a trip to the reborn ghost track at Wilkesboro and a new class for the Hall of Fame, stock car racing is a sport ruled by stories. And the story of Logano’s season is at a crossroads – the All-Star win is either the false hope at the midpoint, or the moment of clarity when the hero finally turns it all around.

Although, once Logano starts winning, he tends to keep going. Thirty points doesn’t seem like all that much.

About the author

swansey.jack

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast,but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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DoninAjax

Of course Joey’s “back.” Any driver who wins is “back.” At least until another driver wins. And then he is “back.”

Echo

I missed the part where all the drivers say you can’t pass the car leading. What paragraph was that in. All the drivers are saying it in interviews but here, nothing.

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