The Top Five: Breaking down the Richmond race

Five thoughts on Sunday’s NASCAR race at Richmond International Raceway…

1. Back it down, Joey

Joey Logano won on a day when he had to start in the back, and the performance was helped by some gentle reminders from crew chief Todd Gordon.

Gordon began the day by texting Logano at 9 a.m., telling him to run 80 percent. The crew chief then repeated it in their pre-race meeting: Go 80 percent, go 80 percent.

Why? Because with Logano starting in the back of the 38-car field due to a transmission change (the team discovered debris in the transmission on Saturday), Gordon knew his driver might try to go all-out in getting back to the front; and that probably wouldn’t be a good thing at a place where tires and equipment seem to get used up.

Logano turned to Penske executive Walt Czarnecki and said, “You pay me to run 100 percent.”

“Today will be a little different,” Czarnecki replied.

As it turned out, Logano listened to Gordon — albeit reluctantly.

“I did (listen),” Logano said afterward with a brief tone of disappointment. “I hate it, too. I am not wired that way. I’m a balls to the wall type of guy, all the time. That’s what’s proven to be successful at certain racetracks.”

But not Richmond. Running consistent, smooth times and saving his stuff allowed him to get in position for Todd Gordon’s strategy gamble, which put Logano off sequence from the rest of the field (along with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who ultimately finished second).

Logano said his mindset changed at the end of the race (“Take that 80 percent thing and throw it out the window”), but it helped put him in position to overcome a bad starting spot on a day when he didn’t have the fastest car.

The best drivers and teams end up winning on days when they aren’t supposed to, and that was Logano on Sunday.

2. Why not Logano?

It’s interesting Joey Logano won the first race after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement, because it comes at a time when many in the NASCAR world are talking about the next face of the sport.

Names like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson keep popping up, but Logano would be a good candidate if fans gave him a chance. After all, he’s only 26 years old — two years older than Larson.

I know I just lost most of the people reading this story, so you probably won’t even see the rest of this item. In that case, I guess it’s OK to tell you I am secretly a CIA spy pretending to be a NASCAR journalist and my real job is to gather intelligence on everyone who tweets questions to Bob Pockrass.

But for those of you still with me, I’m serious: Logano would seem to check a lot of boxes for fans looking for a new driver. He wins a lot (18 career wins, including 15 in the last four seasons), is a very aggressive racer (one reason some fans dislike him) and is one of NASCAR’s nicest guys off the track.

The silver-spoon stigma has hurt him, though, along with the amount of times he’s clashed with popular drivers. So Logano might end up going through his career hearing loud boos instead of cheers, which seems like a huge missed opportunity for both fans and NASCAR.

I mean, even Brian France’s six-year-old son, Luke, picked Logano as his favorite driver. Although I guess that’s another reason for some people not to root for him, so forget I mentioned that part (along with the whole CIA spy thing, please).

3. Dale Jr.’s secret pet?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. often shows animals on his social media accounts, including his dogs and pet bison.

What he’s apparently not been showing is the black cat that surely walks in front of his path every day.

How else to explain the rotten luck he’s had in the first nine races?

“This luck this year is just awful,” he said after finishing 30th. “I don’t know what else we need to do. We’re just out there taking care of ourselves and running along, and something always seems to bite us.”

This time, it was his friend and teammate Jimmie Johnson — of all people! — who came out of nowhere to take him out with 42 laps to go.

Johnson obviously felt terrible and said he had no idea Earnhardt was outside him when he came off the corner and bashed the 88 car into the wall.

“I just have to try to figure out if I just didn’t hear it being told to me (from spotter Earl Barban) or if it wasn’t told to me,” Johnson said. “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.”

Immediately after saying that, Johnson went down pit road to find Earnhardt and the two talked for a couple minutes before Johnson huddled with Barban to go over what happened.

Either way, though, it’s just another weird incident to add to Earnhardt’s list this year. As a result, he’s now 24th in the point standings — 60 points out of a playoff spot.

But Earnhardt said he’s not even looking at points for now.

“We’re sitting so far back, we’ve just got to get this thing to where we can finish,” he said. “I’m just going to concentrate on getting about five or six races put together in a row, top-15s, and see what the points look like after that.”

Clearly, though, the 88 team has work to do. As was the case last week at Bristol, Earnhardt wasn’t going to have an amazing finish even before the incident. Things have to turn around at some point, right?

“Racing’s more frustrating than it is joy,” he said. “But the joy is worth hanging around for.”

4. Commitment issues

The commitment box rule nailed six different drivers, including Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer. Each of them expressed disagreement with the call (“They have the wrong guy,” Busch said after being told of the penalty) and Danica Patrick accused NASCAR of not being clear enough about the rule in the drivers meeting after she was penalized.

Unfortunately for those drivers, it’s a black and white — or orange — issue. The drivers meeting video clearly said to have all four tires below the orange box (not on, but completely below) and then NASCAR’s Richard Buck echoed the rule after the video played.

It might be dumb to have a driver lose a race that way, but NASCAR has to set the line somewhere, right? If a football player is out of bounds by a toe, he’s still out of bounds.

Anyway, the rule especially stunk for Busch, who was behind Logano entering pit road and probably couldn’t see the box at all. Some people wondered if Logano purposefully tried to get close to the box in hopes Busch would follow, but nah.

“There was no strategy behind it, just a late call to pit,” Logano said. “It’s a very late call that Todd said, ‘Pit,’ and I said, ‘OK,’ and I took a hard left and was able to get down. But when you’re the trailing car, you’re looking at a rear spoiler so you’re not 100 percent sure where that box is. It’s a tough situation.”

Busch felt he was inside Logano’s line, but if he was, it wasn’t enough.

The whole situation might be unfortunate for the drivers who got caught, but there’s really no arguing it.

5. Kinder, gentler BZF?

The last time NASCAR reporters got a chance to speak with Brian France at a racetrack, the NASCAR chairman and CEO was combative, defensive and defiant in his answers. That was at Homestead last season.

He answered some sponsor-related questions at a December news conference in Las Vegas introducing Monster Energy, then opened the stage format news conference in January with a few remarks before quickly ducking out.

Other than that, France hadn’t spoken to reporters at any race this season — including Daytona.

So it was quite a surprise, then, when word suddenly trickled in following the drivers meeting that France wanted to come in and address the media at Richmond.

In the wake of Earnhardt’s retirement announcement, there wasn’t really anything newsworthy to come out of his remarks; France basically said all sports go in cycles when it comes to stars and NASCAR will be just fine with the next generation.

But it was notable France was there in the first place. Under the direction of new NASCAR communications chief Eric Nyquist, NASCAR officials seem to be taking a softer approach to the media this year. So far, putting media on blast — even for critical stories — has been much less prevalent (or at least from what I’ve seen), which is a nice change.

France looked comfortable in stating his opinions Sunday, with son Luke at his side. He even took a moment to thank reporters for being there — which is at least a gesture to potentially thaw a frosty relationship with the media.

“I want to thank you guys and gals,” he said. “This is a tough sport to cover. It’s multiple days away (from home), it’s not one game. It’s a lot of work to cover this sport. I know…our entire team thanks each and every one of you for helping tell the NASCAR story. Thank you.”

37 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Richmond race”

  1. Never ever EVER will consider Logani as a replacement for Dale Jr!!! And Jimmie Jimmie Jimmie only hears what he WANTS to hear!!!

    1. That’s too bad…..he deserves it. But I get it. Some folks just don’t care for some drivers. I felt that way about Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, too. Don’t know why, either.

    1. Amen to Denise.
      Sorry Jeff you are never going to sell us Joey. Ain’t gonna happen. Age has nothing to do with it.
      Brian France should be very concerned. He is a DNF always

  2. Never ever EVER will consider Logano as a replacement for Dale Jr!!! And Jimmie Jimmie Jimmie only hears what he WANTS to hear!!!

  3. I totally agree with you that Joey Logano gets a bad rap. He seems so genuine in interviews and truly happy to be racing every week. And really, who hasn’t done a jerky (intentional or not) thing at least once when racing hard??? I’m a KyBusch (and Landon Cassill) fan primarily and even I like Logano 🙂

  4. Nope… not Logano. No one individual will be my DaleJr fan replacement. There are many good guys to root for these days including Larson, Debenedito, Blaney, Johnson, Koch… and in Xfinity, Elliott, Wallace, Byron…etc. never Logano… not from the get-go.

  5. Gluck……have the face fumes and heat affected you today? Geez…. Logano has earned his boos….and will continue to earn them due to his personality on, off, and after on-track accidents. He will never be the face that runs the place.

  6. Love Joey. Known him since he was 10. Great kid. He and Danielle were sweethearts as kids. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.

  7. Best part of the race, when Joey Logano threw the Commitment Line “HAYMAKER” and Knocked bush baby OUT!!!!

  8. As far as Joey I liked him. Then I didn’t (he did #MyManMatt wrong AND didn’t apologize) and then I saw what he did for Cameron Curtis last week, so I like him again (a little bit). Don’t know about the “Sliced Bread” part but he is a pretty good racer.

    This was my tweet when Dale Jr. wrecked.???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? #NASCAR????????????????????

    Then there is the issue with the commitment line, box, whatever. If they wouldn’t change the dang rules at every track then there wouldn’t be these penalties. Truex got screwed too because he had to go around the safety truck.

  9. Come down girls, Jeff is not asking you to have Logano sub for Ralph III. Grow up.

    Logano has gotten a bad rap, often one not deserved.Jealousy/immaturity is a big thing. Pure hypocrisy is the norm with fans and other drivers. Some drivers are very manipulative with their fans to whine, cry and blame..knowing many a fan do not subscribe to any racing mindset whatsoever, just the cult of personality Kardashian mindset regarding the driver they “like”. Logano and Keselowski race hard, the same ones crying about that are many claiming to be “old school”, and “long” for the old days. I always chuckle at THAT hypocrisy!!!!!! The others are whiny newbies who feel that their driver should not be raced and every needs to move aside, I really think they believe that. Then there are the video geeks who think by playing at stupid fantasy game, and they are about the same age as Brad or Joey..that they are better and know better! Laughable, if not pathetic. Team Penske has a healthy fan base, so don’t worry snowflakes, we don’t need ya. Good job this weekend Team Penske! Joey and Brittany keep up your wonderful work off the track!

  10. Jeff, I am a Logano fan. He is living proof that Mr. Penske is the smartest man in racing with regard to picking talent. I was lucky enough to hear Joey on TMD with you on Friday. If everyone listened to a replay, they might have a better handle on him. Growing up with a big last name doesn’t ensure that life will be easy. I think Joey has handled himself well, while staying true to his style of racing. Hammer down!

  11. I was shocked at how empty the stands appeared on Sunday. I’ve been to Richmond twice. It’s a great place to watch a race, access and exit is better than average, and the weather was perfect. I saw one report that said attendance was around 30,000. This track used to draw over 100,000. I think that NASCAR needs to ask itself what happened to those other 70,000 people who were previously willing to buy tickets. Attracting new fans is great, but getting some of those previous ticket buyers back has to be the easier task. Due to the mailings I get, I know that RIR knows who wasn’t there. Why aren’t they asking us why?

  12. Bryan France ruined NASCAR by turning his back on the fans that made the sport and trying to lure the “wine and cheese” set (how did that work out for him ????).
    The constant changing of rules and formats have turned fans off…just let them race.

  13. Let’s tell it like it is. Jr. got his popularity from his Dad. He could go out and murder a different driver every week and the fans would applaud. On another note Baby Busch couldn’t talk to the media because he didn’t get his way again.

  14. I think there’s something about Dale Jr’s retirement that maybe some are missing. I believe that more than a few of his fans are just that, fans of JR not fans of NASCAR. As Dale slowly slips more into the back ground I can see his fans doing the same simply because they aren’t fans of the sport. As much as the fan base has eroded over the past few years it’s quite possible that it’s going to get even worse without the fans that are steadfast JR fans. His fans are fanatic in supporting him not NASCAR. It’s quite possible that we’ll see a lot more friendly BZF and one that’s not as arrogant. At some point, if he hasn’t noticed already, the sport is in deep trouble even with the continued support of the 30,40,50 year loyal fans. While we may miss Tony, Jeff, Carl, Dales fans are a different group entirely and many of them just won’t transfer to another driver. NASCAR will survive but at what cost. Dale SR’s fans transferred to JR, where will JR’s fans go?

  15. It amazes me the sort of hate Logano (and even his teammate) gets… because I constantly hear fans talk about the things they want in a driver… someone who races hard for every position, someone who’s not afraid to mix it up with the other drivers, someone who says what he thinks and won’t back down from anyone… and I hear all that and I think… that’s what Joey is! That’s what Brad is! And yet they’re two of the most hated drivers not named Busch in the series. Just furthers my own hypothesis that NASCAR fans, writ large, are some of the whiniest, most self-entitled “fans” in all of sports.

    1. I think highly of BadBrad!!!
      But Joey Logano is not aggressive, he’s disrespectful!!! All the drivers are good guys off the track, especially to fans, especially kids. Dude, think about it. They’re rich. The fans drive the sponsors drive the $!!! The problem with Joey is he is pushed onto us fans. We ain’t havin that ????. Respect is earned. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it. Authenticity can’t be faked!!!

    2. Lol, very true Jeff Cunningham. P.S. Jeff Gluck you desperately need a ???????? button.

  16. I’m going to reply to two points, so I think I’ll just write two comments.

    First, Joey, who I can’t imagine ever being the face of the sport. Joey has an image problem that will just never go away, because it’s just who he is. I think the fans have loved Junior for so long because they see him as the kind of guy they like to hang around with, just sitting around in a lawn chair, drinking beer, talking a bunch of nonsense about stupid stuff, while they imagine Logano would just be standing in a corner being awkward. If NASCAR drivers were ‘Stand By Me’ kids, Junior would be River Phoenix, and everybody loved River Phoenix. But Joey’s Corey Feldman, a stick of a kid with a goofy grin on his face who just won’t go away, and you only hang out with him because you kind of have to.

    Sure, he’s an aggressive driver, which fans often like, but his aggression often seems to lack direction and comes across as reactionary rather than planned to people looking in from the outside. It seems less aggressive than reckless. And because his aggression is random and, often, dumb, he winds up in scrapes that impact drivers the fans really do like. And all that might be fine if he were the type of guy who could own that off the track, but instead he just sits there with that goofy grim, shrugging as if he has no idea what’s going on or why anybody’s mad. You can’t get people to line up behind you if you seem to be an aggressive jackass in one place and the nicest guy anyone’s ever met in another. The disconnect is too jarring, and the fans won’t buy it.

    I say this believing that Joey probably really is one of the nicest guys there is off the track. But that’s a marketing problem. People have often said Dale Sr. was a really nice guy, too, but he didn’t need to present himself that way to the public. As far as fans knew, he was always the Intimidator, and they loved him for it.

    1. Clint – great comment. I agree with every word, but couldn’t have said it so well.

  17. My other issue … that stupid orange box.

    Okay, sure, NASCAR has to set the line somewhere. There’s a safety issue in there, probably. Maybe. I get that. But the application is so arbitrary, and the consequence is huge. That rule bit people I like and people I don’t like, and every time, it just seemed stupid. At the end, it erased what was shaping up to be an awesome fight to the finish and instead made the last 20 laps a cake walk, because the guy who’d been positioned to make it a real race was at the back of the pack. I don’t care how exciting you make a stage finish by having people battle for 3rd at lap 200, having a guy win a race 2 seconds ahead of second place because of a penalty ruins the whole project.

    It doesn’t help knowing that half the people hit by this penalty probably couldn’t even see that orange box when they drove over it, or understanding that having one tire pass two inches over one corner didn’t change the safety equation even remotely. It’s just that way because the governing body wanted that way for the hell of it.

    It’s interesting that you compare it to the out-of-bounds line in the NFL, and that Mr. France had just cited the falling attendance of other sports when discussing NASCAR’s fan attrition. One of the biggest complaints about the NFL has been the over-regulation killing any hint of excitement. And I’m not talking safety issues or concussions. I’m talking the intentional grounding calls and arbitrary holding calls in the back of the field that don’t affect the play. Sports governing bodies are engineering all the excitement out of sports based on arbitrary rules, and you can see the fan reaction in the stands.

    1. Clint, you must be a Kyle fan because this didn’t affect the entertainment value of the end of the race at all, since it happened under caution. Sounds like your just butt hurt that it was Kyle that got penalized and nothing more. The rule was discussed at length in the drivers meeting so Kyle has nobody to blame but himself. With all your excuses, you really do sound like a Kyle fan though.

      1. It has nothing to do with who got penalized. Kyle got off the pit first. Joey probably had the better car, but not by much. You know what that means? It would have been a 20-lap shoot-out, an honest-to-God fight to the finish that either one of them could have taken. Instead, Joey pulled away as soon as the green came out and was never challenged. You could drop the names of any other two drivers into that spot, and option A’s always going to be better than option B.

        And I don’t care if they were told there was going to be a stupid rule this race. It’s still a stupid rule, it serves no real purpose, and it affected the outcome of the race.

        1. Have to agree Clint. It’s been just two wheels for the past how many races and now all of a sudden this year it;s no tires.in the box and not just at Richmond but was Bristol not the same?

  18. Jeff, you hit the nail on the head with the Logano thing. He seems like a really nice guy off the track, but the whole silver spoon thing will absolutely haunt him, as well as many other of the “next generation” drivers their whole careers. Yes it took some level of talent to get to where he is, but the perception that he is a rich kid whose father bought his way into the sport isn’t entirely false. The average NASCAR fan wants somebody they can relate to, and many fans can’t relate to his background.

  19. Here is the thing on the commitment line. number 1 The rule was apparently quite clear. number 2 Teams made a total of 307 trips down pit road Sunday. they got it right 301 of those times. Sure Cole Pearn and Kyle Busch where most notably upset, however a rule is a rule and the teams ask for this. one could argue that going 50.015 MPH in the 45 MPH (5MPH grace) speed limit on pit road also is not good for competition ether. but that too has cost multiple drivers wins this year. at the end of the day it it a game that is played all the time. from the fake, to the last second dive, its late in the race and no one wants to show their hand and teams do try to catch the other teams off guard. was Joey trying to get the 18 to have a penalty, no. but he and his team where for sure “playing the game” and in this situation it likely lead to his win. because the 18 was faster then the 22 on the short run.

    1. I was listening to the #18 car radio, they were going to pit all along. Logano did not fake out Busch.
      However Kyle’s vision of the box painted on the ground was blocked by the #22. Jeff is one of the very few reporters to report this part of the story accurately. Having said all that, it was still Kyle’s job to make sure he was under the line and he blew it.

      1. All the more reason to not hit the line or even be close. Kyle is blaming everyone but himself for his misfortunes. Goodyear, NASCAR, his team or even Joey. It’s never ever his fault.

  20. Interesting how BZF is now sucking up to the media and the fans as soon as Dale Jr announces his retirement. Its too late for that now Mr. France. You had your chance to do it, as well as listen to what the fans wanted. You chose to ignore them. You made your bed, now you have to lie in it. Next year will not be pretty.

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