Joey Logano wins as NASCAR aero changes prove successful

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kevin Harvick finished second Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, but at least he knew he had a chance at the win.

That might not have been the case last November at the track that NASCAR will start contesting its championship this season. The NASCAR short-track aerodynamic package used in 2019 was frustrating to watch, as it seemed every car stalled out behind the other.

Yes, Martin Truex Jr. could make some passes through the field, but it seemed if anyone had a problem last year on short tracks, their days were over.

On Sunday? Winner Joey Logano rallied from a bad pit stop where the jack broke and relegated him to 18th.

“There’s no way you could do any worse than it was last year,” Harvick said. “It was absolutely pathetic last year. It was way better from a driver’s standpoint.

“You saw people able to recover and come back through the field and race. It would be fun to have that every week.”

Two key elements spurred NASCAR to decide  to return to a smaller spoiler and front splitter and a tire that caused lap times to fall off more during a run. The first was an awful race — one of many subpar races on short tracks — in November at Phoenix. The other was a meeting in December in Nashville during the awards weekend where NASCAR got input from drivers and Goodyear.

Everyone agreed that NASCAR had to do something despite an October 1 deadline to set the rules for the next year. No one wanted to have the final two races of the season at short tracks Martinsville (0.526-mile) and Phoenix (1-mile) to be snoozefests.

So NASCAR went back to its 2018 package, Goodyear brought a better tire and NASCAR applied traction compound in lanes where drivers would actually use it.

And guess what? Drivers are looking forward to racing short tracks again.

“Everyone in this whole facility took a sigh of relief today,” Logano said. “You know what I mean? … It’s cool to see that we’re able to make changes and make a difference and really put on what I thought was obviously a great race.

“We won. Even if we didn’t win, I would have said that was a pretty cool race.”

And it’s not only drivers who seem optimistic.

“I don’t know if it’s the right [package], but it was a step in the right direction for sure,” said Logano crew chief Paul Wolfe. “There’s multiple things involved there. … The strategy, if you look back at the last few years here, it was single file racing, track position, track position.

“Today I wasn’t scared to come down pit road and put tires on it.”

Boy is that refreshing to hear. Drivers have asked Goodyear for tires that wear and as long as they don’t complain if a tire does blow late in a fuel run (Goodyear doesn’t pay NASCAR to be its official tire supplier only to get trashed), it seems everyone is better off for it.

“The tires were dropping off enough where guys were peeling off [to pit] and it put guys on a strategy to try to go for it,” said Ganassi driver Kurt Busch, who was sixth while teammate Kyle Larson finished fourth. “The 42 [of Larson] pitted on a different sequence than us and we ended up fourth and sixth.

“But we thought we had our own trajectory with the tires, and with the grip and the low downforce.”

Kyle Busch, who finished third, said at least a driver could get up to the bumper of another driver with this package.

“You could get up into a guy’s left-rear and be close enough to their left-rear and follow them close enough that you could try to make a move on them or make a run on them up off the corner, get them a little loose to be able to make a move on them,” Kyle Busch said.

“I felt like there was certainly some positives. I felt like some of it was also kind of the same as what you get. When you get strung out, you get strung out.”

But, overall, NASCAR will take it. NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell indicated that NASCAR would only make a change if it sees something vastly different at other short tracks than what it saw at Phoenix.

“There is a lot of racing to go but certainly feel like this is a good platform to start off our short-track package and what we wanted to see as we kind of head off and go to Martinsville and Richmond and see what we could do there,” O’Donnell said.

NASCAR often likes to rattle off stats about green-flag passes and passes for the lead to try to prove its racing packages work well. But it truly comes down to the eye test. Do fans see cars that are better able to pass if the drivers can work another lane or take advantage of a small mistake?

They obviously could Sunday.

“We had this race to try some things and see if it worked,” O’Donnell said. “We hoped it would work. If not, we were going to pull another lever and see what we could do. … This was the first big test obviously with the championship [in November] so expect us to stay with this one.”

Xfinity: Brandon Jones gets big win

Brandon Jones earned his second career NASCAR Xfinity Series win, but the one Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway had to feel a little different than last October at Kansas Speedway.

Yes, any win is a good win and a big win. But when NASCAR Cup Series drivers Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski are in the field, the accomplishment, at least from the outside, appears bigger.

Read more below.

Stat of Note

Clint Bowyer, who finished fifth, ended a 23-race streak at Phoenix without a top-five finish.

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What They Said

“Kevin [Harvick] is one of the best racers that’s ever strapped into a racecar, in a stockcar in particular. He’s a Hall of Famer to say the least. When you line up at the end of a race against him, you know it’s going to be a heck of a battle, but it’s a lot of fun.” – Joey Logano