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Analysis
NASCAR Cup Nashville

Why Joey Logano took a 'ginormous risk' to win at Nashville

The gamble taken by Joey Logano in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway came with a huge payoff – a trip to the 2024 playoffs – but it just as easily could have failed miserably, so was it worth it?

Stretching the fuel in Logano's No. 22 Penske Ford for 110 laps – including five overtimes that covered an extra 31 laps – certainly looks like the right decision now.

After all, with the win, the two-time champion is locked in the playoffs and has a chance to win a third series title. With the way his 2024 season began, that was by no means a certainty.

When a caution came out with one of the originally scheduled 300 laps in the race remaining and started the run of overtimes, Logano was in the same position as many others in the top 10 – precariously close on fuel.

Many teams had planned for a possible overtime or two when making their final stop for fuel. But five? No Cup race had ever gone more than three.

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane

Photo by: Danny Hansen / NKP / Motorsport Images

One by one top contenders dropped to the wayside after running out or needing to pit for fuel – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Briscoe among them.

Yet Logano carried on.

For a team without a win and barely above the cutoff line in points to make the playoff field, it seemed an impossible situation – go for the needed win or run out of fuel and potentially lose a huge number of points.

“That was to me a ginormous risk because I mean, you pit and you go back out and you maybe can finish in the top 15, versus going for the win, but you can maybe finish 35th. Makes it a pretty hard call,” Logano said.

“But gosh, when you’re winning the race, how do you not? Especially when you see the other cars that were up there. Chase Briscoe, he wins and that wouldn’t have been good for our playoff hopes.

“When you think about who we were racing against, we needed to make sure that we were able to at least stay on the strategy the same as they were.”

How did they make it?

As it turned out, Logano was the only driver who went into the overtime stretch close on fuel to make it out the other side and with the victory in hand as a bonus.

The numbers show Logano’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, cut it as close as possible – confirmed by Logano’s running the final lap with his fuel light on and his car “sputtering” at times.

Of the 110 laps Logano ran, 69 were under green flag conditions and 51 were under caution, which tremendously helped his cause.

Generally, three cautions laps are the equivalent of two normal laps in terms of fuel consumption. That means the caution laps roughly translated into 17 green flag laps.

If you add 69 and 17 you get 86 laps. The estimated fuel window for Sunday’s race was about 80 laps. Factor in Logano shutting off his engine at times under caution and you can see how he made it last.

Still, for Wolfe, if the most important objective was to make the playoffs, there may have been little choice after all.

“I think for myself and one of my engineers it has kind of been the mindset that ‘Hey, we’re going to have to win a race.’ As much as you want to say you can point your way in, that’s great, but I think personally we’ve been in the mindset we need to win,” Wolfe explained.

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane

Joey Logano, Team Penske, Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang in victory lane

Photo by: Rusty Jones / NKP / Motorsport Images

Although Logano’s Penske teammates, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric, had both won races in the last month, the No. 22’s performance still wasn’t where Wolfe would like it to be, and he knew the opportunities for victories were shrinking.

“I feel like we’ve been making some progress. I’m optimistic that we’ve been working in the right direction,” he said. “I knew that three races coming up – Iowa, Gateway, Loudon, I told Joey those were going to be our opportunities to win a race.

“Obviously, we weren’t able to do it. Our teammates were, which was good for the company, but we still weren’t in a good spot.”

That may have made the decision to push the fuel issue slightly less of a close call.

“We just got to a point where I was like, ‘Well, we’ve got guys around us that were racing for the win to get into the playoffs, too, and at this point we’ve come this far, let’s just stick with it’ even though everything showed that we were probably going to ran out somewhere on that last lap,” Wolfe said.

“I felt it was worth the gamble at that point.”

It certainly was this time.

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