Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway was a fascinating battle of strategy and execution, won by Joey Logano, who became the seventh different driver to win a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this year.
Here are four takeaways from a seriously hot Virginia Sunday afternoon.
For the entire race, Logano led a mere 25 laps, the same as seventh-place finisher Ryan Newman and far fewer than Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, who led 110 laps, or Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth, who led 164, and Denny Hamlin, who was out front for 59. But two late-race pit calls by Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon – one not to pit with 30 laps to go, and another to pit and get fresh tires with 21 laps to go — were the difference.
“We executed under pressure today and brought a car that was a fifth- to 10th-place car home to Victory Lane,” said Logano, who won in his 300th career Cup start.
In NASCAR, it’s incredibly easy to go from hero to zero and really hard to do it the other way around. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson came into Richmond having won the last two races. But he struggled mightily here and wound up finishing 11th after inadvertently stuffing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. into the wall late in the race. Once again, it showed you’re only as good – or as bad – as your last race.
“I just feel terrible, obviously,” said Johnson. “Man, I’m surprised our cars even kept rolling after that because I just body slammed him into the wall and I could have easily not heard the clear or something else happened. I don’t know, but that’s the last thing you want to have happen with a teammate."
Joe Gibbs Racing came into Richmond struggling, but optimistic they could win for the first in 2017. As a team, JGR had won the last three Richmond races and short tracks play into the team’s wheelhouse, but the Toyota Owners 400 was a very mixed bag for the team.
Matt Kenseth led nearly half the race from the pole but late-race contact resulted in a cut tire and a 23rd-place finish. Kyle Busch was fast enough to win, but suffered two crippling pit-road penalties that cost him the victory. Rookie Daniel Suarez had a decent day, finishing 12th, while Denny Hamlin was best of the four JGR drivers with a third-place run.
But after the race, Hamlin, a three-time Richmond winner, was unhappy with the speed in his Toyota and said the team hadn’t improved.
“We haven’t gotten better ,” said Hamlin. “We’re right where we were. I mean, if we go to a mile‑and‑a‑half (track) next week, we're just as far off as what we were a week ago. Literally it's just a short track, and so driver can make a little bit more difference in aerodynamics and skew and all that stuff doesn't matter quite as much, but it's still an issue for us. You've still got to have raw speed.”
Saturday night in Phoenix, Penske swept the top two positions with Simon Pagenaud winning over Will Power in the Verizon IndyCar race and Sunday at Richmond they went 1-2 again, with Joey Logano winning over teammate Brad Keselowski. As weekends go, this was a fine one for team owner Roger Penske and his minions.
“Pretty neat to have a couple of 1-2 finishes over this weekend,” said Logano. “… It’s nice to break through and get our first points victory of the year.”