Joe Gibbs Racing press release
Rough-and-Tumble Day for Logano at Martinsville
Several Close Encounters Leave Interstate Batteries Driver with Disappointing 18th-Place Finish
There were no fewer than 18 caution periods for more than 100 laps during Sunday’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Martinsville (Va.) Speedway’s .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval. By the time all was said and done, Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), couldn’t help but feel like a human pinball en route to a disappointing 18th-place finish.
The 21-year-old from Connecticut’s persistent efforts to make his way toward the front of the pack were thwarted time and again not only by the dozen-and-a-half yellow flags that waved, but when he tagged or was tagged by other cars during many of those incidents that occurred over the 500 laps contested today on NASCAR’s tightest oval circuit, where racing in extremely close quarters is the norm.
Logano started 22nd on a grid that was set according to owner points, per the NASCAR rulebook, after all of Friday’s practice sessions, as well as Saturday’s qualifying session, were washed out by rain. He patiently bided his time in the early going while assessing a slightly loose condition and found his way up to 15th place by lap 64, when the caution flag had already waved for the fourth time. Logano’s Interstate Batteries Toyota had made right-front contact in two of those early restarts, which drew the attention of the No. 20 crew during a slightly extended pit stop on lap 68 to make minor repairs to the front end that dropped him back to 25th place.
Then came Logano’s first major incident to that point, when Jamie McMurray spun and forced several cars ahead of Logano to check up on lap 85. Logano emerged with significant right-front damage, and another extended stop was necessary to repair air flow to the car’s brake ducting. That dropped Logano all the way back to 34th, but he made quick work of gaining back positions. He was back in the top-15 by lap 123 and appeared to be back in his groove as the race was finally settling down after its caution-filled beginnings.
On lap 149, however, Logano’s charge was thwarted in a big way when Dale Earnhardt Jr., tapped him from behind and sent the No. 20 car spinning into the outside SAFER Barrier in turns three and four. Logano called it a hard hit, but the left side of the car contacted the wall squarely and did not knock any corner pieces out of line. Still, Logano found himself having to battle his way back from 30th place. He climbed back into the top-25 by the race’s midpoint at lap 250, and he stayed in that relative position until gaining some forward momentum with less than 100 laps to go.
Timely pit calls and quick work by the Interstate crew allowed Logano to climb up to 17th by lap 432, and he was flirting with the top-10 for the first time all day when he was 11th on a lap-476 restart, then was up to ninth with just eight laps remaining.
But, admittedly trying perhaps a little too hard to better his position on the final restart of the race with three laps to go, Logano again encountered unwanted contact and was shuffled back to 18th by the time the checkered flag flew.
“We did okay recovering from where we were,” said a dejected Logano after the race. “I’m just not happy with the way we performed all day, myself included. We did a good job coming back after all that happened, somehow, and we had ourselves in position for a top-10 finish. Then I got aggressive at the end and wrecked the car. That’s it, so it’s pretty disappointing.”
Logano’s JGR teammates – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry and Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Toyota Camry – finished fifth and 27th, respectively.
Tony Stewart won today’s TUMS Fast Relief 500 for his 42nd victory in 461 career Sprint Cup races, his third win and 16th top-10 result of 2011, and his third win and 14th top-10 in 26 career starts at Martinsville. He finished .170 of a second ahead of runner-up Jimmie Johnson, while Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Hamlin rounded out the top-five. Jeff Burton, Earnhardt, Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 18 caution periods for 108 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
Busch and Hamlin represent JGR in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Busch fell one spot to seventh in the standings and is now 57 points behind Chase leader Carl Edwards. Hamlin remained 11th in the standings and is now 80 points out of first.
Logano remained 23rd in the standings and now has 837 points.