Gordon-Larson mutual admiration society; mixed feelings for Earnhardt.
The freak occurrence that made Joey Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford lightning fast at the end of Sunday’s race was the same thing that made his engine explode.
Fortunately for Logano, the engine waited to detonate until after he had crossed the finish line in fourth place.
A windshield tear-off adhered to the grille of Logano’s car after a restart with six laps left and stayed there. With the airflow to the radiator completely cut off, Logano ran what were essentially qualifying laps through the finish.
The downside was that he pushed all the water out of the cooling system and sent the temperatures skyrocketing. But Logano still had enough speed at the end to pass Kevin Harvick for fourth on the final lap. As he approached the finish line, white smoke began to billow from the engine.
“We hit a piece of debris with about five to go,” Logano said. “I say ‘piece,’ but it was huge. I think it was a tear-off, and we got really hot, but the car started handling really good when it was on there, and we got another spot because of it.
“We blew up going into Turn 3 and just had a big smoke screen behind me, but I was able to get it across.”
The top-five finish left Logano third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, 10 points behind teammate and race-winner Brad Keselowski. After the third race of the Chase, at Dover, at least nine drivers will advance to the next elimination round by virtue of their respective positions in the standings.
Larson, Gordon feelin' the love
As hard as they raced each other in the closing laps of Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Larson might as well have been at a tea social when they sat side-by-side at the dais in the track's media center.
Gordon and Larson raced ferociously over the last six laps and finished second and third, respectively, behind race-winner Brad Keselowski. Afterwards, Gordon spoke to Larson in close quarters on pit road, telling the talented rookie driver what he might have done differently on a critical restart on lap 262 of 267.
“I'm never out front, really,” Larson (in photo) said. “I'm never on the front row, so I don't know what to do. You look at my Nationwide races, and I'm maybe on the front row a handful of times. Then the Cup Series, another handful. I'm still learning that part of it.
“He came down to give me some advice, which was nice. I know Jeff thinks a lot about me, and I think a lot about him, too. It was fun racing him. I definitely wanted to beat him. I was trying all I could. Just tried a little bit too hard. Was running probably an inch or two off the wall all day and finally got into it.
“But, yeah, it's nice whenever Jeff comes around or I read all the stuff he says about me. It's cool.”
From Gordon’s standpoint, Larson’s performance was clearly praiseworthy.
“I think this kid is the real deal,” Gordon said. “He's going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win, because I like him, and I know he's going to win a lot of races, but I also didn't want to see those other guys (fellow Chase drivers) win.
“I'm a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That's so much fun. That's what this sport is all about. I just want to let him know what a great job I thought he did.”
And with Gordon’s advice, perhaps Larson will do a little better on a restart from the front row next time around.
Mixed feelings for Dale
Based on the way he practiced on Friday and Saturday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. might have been happy to escape Sunday’s race with the 11th-place finish he recorded.
But in the first Chase event, Earnhardt’s car was the strongest it had been all weekend, and the 11th-place result left him wanting more.
“We weren’t very good in practice,” Earnhardt said after the race. “I was really, really concerned. We had a real bad P3 (third practice). (Crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and those guys, man, they just worked real hard all night long and stayed up on the computer and looked over the notes, and we had a real good car today. It was a top-five car.
Restarting on the inside there in fifth or seventh (late in the race), a little bit tough. Outside was where I kind of wanted to be on restarts. The guys behind us got tires, and we got beat by tires on a couple of cars there. If you would have told me that we could have finished 11th this morning, I would have happily taken it.
“But there in the middle of the race, kind of started getting greedy about positions because the car was better than that… I feel like this team can run for 11th on its worst day. That will do it. That will get us through the next round, until we get to some tracks that maybe we run a little bit better at, or tracks that suit us a little bit better.”
Earnhardt leaves Chicago fifth in the standings, 17 points behind leader Brad Keselowski and 13 points ahead of 13th-place Ryan Newman. After the Sept. 28 race at Dover, four of 16 drivers will be eliminated from the Chase.
Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service