Logano, Johnson out early; Penske Fords on a roll, Gordon has fuel shortage
Perhaps the only driver with a chance to prevent Brad Keselowski from winning Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano.
Logano was one of nine drivers to lead the race and was running second when his quest was ended by a crash on Lap 213 with Morgan Shepherd.
It was the kind of incident that occurs all the time in NASCAR, one car getting into the back of another. But this one came with a twist.
Logano, age 24, was a contender to win the race and remains a contender to advance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Shepherd, 72, is the oldest driver to compete at NASCAR’s highest level. Breaking into Sprint Cup in 1970, he’s notched 168 top-10 finishes but not a one since 1997. His last win came in 1993.
This was just the second race this season for Shepherd, who did not race Cup from 2007-12, and his Thunder Coal Chevrolet posed a threat only as a rolling roadblock, struggling at times to maintain minimum speed.
“I got taken out by the slowest car out there,” said Logano, visibly upset after the crash. “You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that’s stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing.”
Logano went on to say that if a driver can’t “control his stuff,” he “shouldn’t be out there. He suggested that NASCAR might consider requiring drivers to pass a test.
NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton defended Shepherd’s right to be on the track, competing against some drivers who are more than a half-century his junior.
“Morgan Shepherd has always been approved (to drive),” Pemberton said. “He’s been approved for decades. Under our situation here, you take a physical at the beginning of the year. You pass your physical. You pass inspections with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. So, he met everything he needed to meet.
“Joey was half-kidding (about requiring a test). I understand that. Nobody wants to be (taken) out of a race because of an accident.”
Pemberton called Sunday’s incident “an accident” that “could happen to anybody.”
“Those things happen,” Pemberton said. “(Shepherd) was above the minimum speed. He pulled over to let Joey go by. That’s a responsibility for all competitors. Everybody has a responsibility to lay off each other.”
Asked if his age should be a barrier to competition, Shepherd responded with a question.
“Was that the only wreck out there?” he asked. “OK. That answers that.
“It was nobody’s fault. Maybe he didn’t realize how wicked-loose I was. I was having to tip-toe through the corner. It’s one of those deals that my car wasn’t driving real good. Whenever he drove down in the corner, he was close to me and it pulled my car around.”
Roger Penske seemed very willing to give Shepherd a pass.
“Morgan’s a good friend of everyone in the garage area. He’s a good friend of mine,” Penske said. “We’ve tried to support him.
“I told Joey, ‘Look, you can’t go back and fix it.’ When Brad came up on (Shepherd) later in the race, he slowed down to let everybody by him.
“The great thing about the sport (is) that if you want to tee it up here and bring your car and have a team, we let them run. So, I don’t feel bad about it other than the fact that Joey got knocked out. He was running second at that time and, obviously, at that point you say, ‘damn,’ but at the end of the day we’ve got to move on.”
Johnson exits early
A week after completing just 20 laps at Daytona, Jimmie Johnson suffered a pair of early flat tires, the second of which resulted in a race-ending crash. Johnson completed only 11 laps and recorded a second consecutive 42nd-place finish.
Johnson refused to believe that lower-than-advised air pressure might have led to his tire failures.
“I’m not sure what caused it,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation and, I’m sure, finger-pointing back to the team or our team. But we saw some issues here, especially with the particular tire the last couple of days. We will try to dig in and learn more. But I can promise you one thing: It wasn’t due to low left-rear tire pressure.”
Johnson did not rule out the possibility that damage to his car from the first flat might have caused a rub that led to the second tire failing.
The early exit hurt Johnson in multiple ways. New Hampshire is the second race of the Chase and the No. 48 team, which slipped to fifth in points, now has a limited notebook. “It would have been nice to get a race in here before we come back for the second one,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely a setback, missing out on track time.”
Ford keeps rolling
Keselowski gave Ford its fourth consecutive Cup victory, something that the manufacturer has not enjoyed since 2001. Ford’s eight trips to Victory Lane this season are the most since it had 11 wins in 2008.
Keselowski, who won at Kentucky Speedway on June 28, has won twice during the four-race streak. Carl Edwards (Sonoma) and Aric Almirola (Daytona) have accounted for the other wins.
Jeff Gordon remained the Sprint Cup points leader despite running out of gas during the final caution and finishing 26th. His lead dwindled to 12 points in front of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I felt very confident we could finish third until that caution came out,” Gordon said. “We knew we were very close. That (fuel) pickup is on the right side, so I was scuffing my tires. I think if we had (stayed) green we would have been fine. Under caution, it wouldn’t pick up the amount of fuel that was in there.”
Chasing the Chase
Matt Kenseth finished fourth, Ryan Newman fifth, Clint Bowyer sixth, Austin Dillon 14th and Paul Menard 19th to remain positioned to make the Chase field without a victory this season.
Greg Biffle, the first driver on the outside looking in at this point, battled through early tire issues to finish 16th and remain five points behind Dillon for the final Chase spot. Kasey Kahne (11th) is just four points behind Biffle.
Seth Livingstone, NASCAR Wire Service