The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s NASCAR playoff race at ISM Raceway…

1.  Big stage is set

After all the crazy twists of these playoffs, NASCAR ended up with the best four drivers of the season going for the championship.

There are no flukes here. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. have the best average finishes of anyone in the Cup Series this season (in that order). In the traditional/non-playoff point standings, which are still kept by racing-reference.info, those four drivers are also tops in season-long points.

It’s a stout group, and you could make a case for any of them winning the title.

“This is the closest four that have been in our sport in a long time,” Busch said.

There are no newcomers among them, either.  Each contender has been in the final four at least twice — even though this is only the fifth year of its existence. Logano is the least experienced of the contenders — and yet this is his 10th season.

“Three of us have won in the format and all four of us have lost in the format,” Busch said. “Overall, it just comes back to a lot of things having to go your way.”

So what’s going to happen at Homestead? Well, it would be a surprise if the drivers didn’t run 1-2-3-4 for much of the race, and maybe even finish that way.

Harvick though, remains the favorite. It’s a 1.5-mile track and he’s consistently been the fastest off the truck all year. Strange things can happen, as we saw at Phoenix, but the Fords are still better than the Toyotas on intermediate tracks.

So that said, my prediction for the finishing order of this year’s final four is: Harvick-Logano-Busch-Truex.

2. Playoff races raise the game

It’s OK to have a love/hate relationship with this playoff format. There are days when it seems far from the best way to decide an auto racing champion.

But Sunday was not one of those days. The playoff pressure absolutely elevated the Phoenix race and made it far more compelling than it may have been otherwise.

Look at how desperately Aric Almirola was driving at the end. Look at the decisions made by Kurt Busch and his team to try to preserve their points position over Harvick. The whole atmosphere and vibe of the race was dramatically enhanced by the playoffs, and it made for a highly entertaining day.

Yeah, it’s still weird to have one race at a given track decide the season-long winner. On the other hand, it gains credibility when the best drivers all advance — and the addition of playoff points have certainly helped.

“I think the format we have now is the absolutely best scenario we could have when you look at it for the entirety of the year,” Busch said.

3. Smoke’s thoughts

Tony Stewart had his hands full on Sunday. He knew it would be challenging for a team owner — that’s what happens when you have four teammates going for one spot. But he had to step into an extra role as well: Counselor.

As Kurt Busch was having a meltdown on the radio after a tough penalty took  the race lead away and cost him a lap, Stewart intervened and told Busch to take a deep breath. After the race, Stewart consoled Busch with an embrace and words of encouragement — something Busch expressed gratitude for later.

It was if the current Stewart was talking to the racer Stewart from 10 years ago as the voice of reason.

Scary, isn’t it?” Stewart told me after the race. “Got some experience in those situations. I think that helps, at least being in that position. (Kurt is) a good guy. He’s come a long way, but he still gets in those positions where the heat of battle takes over. It’s understandable. That’s why we do what we do.

“Can’t blame him for it. You just know everybody is going to hang on every word he says, so you just try to help him out more than anything. After his penalty, he did an awesome job of locking back in. He was running the leaders down from the back. Pretty proud of him.”

Overall, Stewart was unhappy about the race unfolded. He called it “chaotic” and indicated there were too many factors affecting such a big race.

What specifically stuck out?

The scenarios and everything around it, drivers that shouldn’t even be in the Cup Series causing cautions, stupid stuff happening,” he said.

4. Harvick’s comeback

This will probably be lost to history, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Harvick’s remarkable feat at Phoenix.

After dominating the first stage, he had a tire go flat with two laps left in the stage and limped to pit road — which was actually fortunate timing, because the stage break saved him from going more laps down.

Then he fought his way to the free pass position —  and got it — despite a damaged car. Later, his team used strategy to put him in a favorable spot to be in front of the late wreck that would have ended his playoff hopes — but instead helped him sail through on points as his competitors crashed.

Harvick downplayed it all afterward, saying it was “just another day.” He said his only thoughts were trying to get back to the pits instead of worrying about the championship.

But the survival and focus of his team to persevere through a day that could have been a heartbreaker is one to remember — especially if he ends up winning his second title next week.

5. What if?

An intriguing scenario popped up late in the race with Kyle Busch and Almirola restarting side-by-side. If Busch allowed Almirola to beat him on the restart — and potentially for the win — then it would have eliminated Harvick, who is clearly Busch’s biggest competitor for the title.

Busch said it crossed his mind, but never seriously. He wasn’t going to give up a win, even if it means Harvick would beat him next week.

You always want to go up against the best of the best, and the strength of the season has been us three and the 22,” Busch said.

In addition, Busch said it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Had Almirola gotten by on the restart and Busch fallen in line, he predicted Brad Keselowski would have won instead.

“I don’t think the 10 was capable enough of being able to lead the race and not have somebody else pass him, know what I mean?” Busch said. “That would have been dumb.”

Crew chief Adam Stevens,  though, seemed like he wouldn’t have been disappointed had it happened.

“It wouldn’t have upset me if it did happen, but we weren’t going to do anything to make it happen,” Stevens said.

I’m not at all saying Busch should have done it — no real racer would give up a win, and it also would have been a huge scandal for not letting the race play out — but it’s an interesting scenario that only pops up in NASCAR’s unique playoff format.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s Round 3 opener at Martinsville…

1. What if….

I recently invented a special machine that allows me to travel between parallel universes and watch NASCAR races in two different dimensions. I just arrived back from the alternate universe where Joey Logano elected to race cleanly and NOT move Martin Truex Jr. for the win at Martinsville.

If you’re wondering how that decision went over with everyone, I brought the postrace transcript from Logano’s runner-up press conference from the parallel universe. Here it is.

REPORTER 1: “Joey, it looked like you had a chance to move Martin out of the way on that last lap and backed out of it. What was going through your mind there, knowing that may have cost you a chance to reach Homestead?”

LOGANO: “Look, I love winning. But clean driving is everything to me. If I can’t have the respect of my competitors, I don’t want to be doing this. Martin raced me fair and square, so I wanted to do the same in return.”

REPORTER 2: “That’s great, but what do you say to your fans and team after passing up a guaranteed shot to make the final four?”

LOGANO: “Martin is a classy guy. We attend each other’s charity events and he’s always so nice when my wife and I see him in the motorhome lot. I know we’ll be friends for years to come. It’s just not worth it to ruin that relationship. Heck, we’re supposed to go out on the lake together this week!”

REPORTER 3: “Joey, it looks like Twitter is lighting up with fans who say you must not want a championship badly enough if that’s how you race. How do you answer critics who say you get paid millions of dollars to do whatever it takes to win?”

LOGANO: “Have you ever been loudly booed by a crowd? Have you ever had a driver’s significant other tweet something negative about you? I mean, geez. Those things hurt. I don’t want any part of that. I would rather be a good guy and keep my reputation intact than do anything to make people think I’m a dirty driver.”

(TWO MONTHS LATER)

SPONSOR: “Joey, we like you a lot, but we’re paying $20 million a year for our car to win races and championships. We’re going to be moving on.”

LOGANO: “Aw, OK. I hope we can still be friends!”

2. Respect for Truex

Is it possible to agree with Logano’s last-lap move and still empathize with the obvious anger felt by Truex and Cole Pearn?

Absolutely.

Truex had an incredible drive on Sunday. He had his qualifying time thrown out and started in the back, only to make it through the field — at Martinsville, no less! — and contend in the top five almost the entire day.

Truex fought his way toward the front, then patiently and cleanly worked Logano for the lead until making what seemed to be the winning pass.

Had Truex won, that would have been one of the highlights of his career: First short track win, a win-and-in ticket to Homestead, high stakes with his team getting ready to shut down and people loudly saying he’s the most vulnerable of the Big Three drivers to miss the final four.

Instead…Logano ran into him. And now making Homestead is no sure thing.

Frustrating! Super, super frustrating! Who wouldn’t be angry about that?

I still don’t blame Logano for making the move, but it’s completely understandable why Truex and his fans would be upset about it. When looking back in a couple weeks, that one moment could very well be the difference between competing for a championship and missing out altogether.

That said, as mad as he may be now, I see no scenario under which Truex retaliates. He’s just not that kind of driver. Even if he doesn’t make Homestead, Truex isn’t going to go out and ruin Logano’s championship race with a crash. He might race Logano hard, but Truex won’t pull a Matt Kenseth. No way.

3. What’s the code?

I’m not a driver, so this is just one interpretation of what’s OK on the last lap in NASCAR and what isn’t.

— If you can move someone out of the way and do it without ruining their day — i.e. without wrecking them or costing them more than a few positions — then it’s not only acceptable in NASCAR, but expected. And even encouraged by series officials.

— If you have a chance to door someone for a side-by-side finish, it’s a coin toss as to whether the other driver and the general fan base will think it’s an acceptable move. This often depends on the person initiating the contact.

— If you accidentally wreck the person while trying to move them (like Denny Hamlin on Chase Elliott), that is considered off-limits and there will be repercussions from both the other driver and fans.

— If you crash the person in a reckless-but-unintentional way (not necessarily on purpose, but understanding there will be full contact like Noah Gragson on Todd Gilliland), people may view it the same way as a blatant takeout.

— If you completely crash someone on purpose in order to win, that’s viewed as a dirty move that takes no talent and the fallout might stain your reputation for years.

Logano’s move on Truex — like any bump-and-run at a short track — is about the least offensive way to physically move someone and falls into the first category. That’s the type of move that can only happen in stock car racing and is a hallmark of what makes NASCAR fun. You’re not going to get that in Formula One, let’s put it that way.

4. Stuff that doesn’t matter

Over the last four weeks, I’ve taken a step back from NASCAR as I got off the road for the birth of my daughter. Though I’ve tried to follow the news as much as possible, there’s no doubt having a newborn at home makes it difficult to be as immersed in the NASCAR bubble as the weeks when I’m on the road at races.

And I’ve got to tell you: Looking at the big picture, it’s a bit alarming how the NASCAR world seems to get caught up in minor, tiny crap that doesn’t really matter and actually detracts from the sport.

One example is the race day morning inspection where qualifying times get thrown out. Here I am as a TV viewer who woke up excited to spend my Sunday watching some short-track racin’ across the country. I opened my Twitter app, and what was the big storyline of the day? Drivers getting their qualifying times disallowed, starting at the back for unapproved adjustments, crew members getting ejected, etc.

Seriously? This is what we’re talking about on playoff race day morning?? For a short track where aero doesn’t even really matter???

Officiating things that way certainly seems excessive. And yes, I know all about the reasons why they do it; I’m explaining the big-picture view of why it seems silly.

Another example was the race a couple weeks ago at Talladega. My wife was in the hospital that day and I was unable to pay much attention to the race, though we had it on in the background on mute.

When I tried catching up with what happened, the big controversy was apparently about whether NASCAR should have made the caution one lap shorter and whether officials should have thrown a yellow for a wreck on the last lap instead of having it finish under green.

Look, I completely understand why those are significant debates for those in the NASCAR industry and fans who are super passionate about the sport. But can you imagine how all this looks to casual fans or people who might want to give NASCAR a chance?

Headlines like Drivers criticize NASCAR for running them out of fuel with long caution! and Fans angry NASCAR chose drama over safety on last lap! just seem like such minor things from afar. As does Defending champion will start at the back today for failing laser scan on first try!

I’m not suggesting I have the solution to all this, because I don’t. And I’m not criticizing the media, certainly; when I get back at Texas next week, I’ll be all-in with the bubble once again.

But if these are the storylines, NASCAR has some real work to do. It cannot afford to be stuck on the minutiae, because there aren’t enough people left who care that much. Simplify things, focus on what really makes people want to spend their time on the sport (great racing and interesting driver storylines) and everyone will be much better off.

5. What’s next?

Logano taking a guaranteed spot at Homestead means at least one of the Big Three is going to have to point their way into the final four. After Martinsville, Truex and Kevin Harvick are tied for the last two spots, 25 points above the cutline.

I think both will be OK, as will Kyle Busch. Harvick is probably going to win Texas, Phoenix or both; Busch might win one of those as well. That means Truex, with a pair of top-five finishes, should be just fine.

Aric Almirola, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch are already facing big points deficits after just one week. Are any of them going to win a race in this round? I actually think it’s more likely a non-playoff type like a Denny Hamlin or a Brad Keselowski will win, which would open up an addition points position for a Big Three member.

So as it turns out, perhaps all of the Big Three will make it to Homestead after all — just maybe not exactly how we expected.

Post-Brickyard 400 podcast with NASCAR playoff drivers

Five NASCAR playoff drivers (Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin), along with @nascarcasm and Paige Keselowski, join me on the frontstretch at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to help break down the upcoming NASCAR playoffs.

Friday notebook: New Hampshire

Here’s a roundup of the conversation that took place Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway…

— Kyle Larson wants NASCAR to stay out of the dirt game

Despite the success of the Eldora Truck race leading some in the NASCAR world — including Tony Stewart — to stump for an Xfinity or Cup show on a dirt track, Kyle Larson doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

“Tony is probably going to get mad, but I would like to see it just stay as it is,” Larson said. “I wouldn’t like to see Cup on dirt.  To me, Cup belongs on pavement and real road course tracks.

“If we went to Eldora, yeah, I would be excited because I would be really fast and I feel like I would definitely have the best shot to win. But at the same time, I think we are fine not going there.”

Why not? Well, Larson seemed to indicate it wouldn’t be a very good show.

“Maybe if Goodyear could make a way better tire and us be actually able to use the horsepower — or even more horsepower in our Cup cars — on a dirt track, I think it would be a lot more fun,” he said. “I don’t really know how to answer the question without making people mad.”

— Denny Hamlin says schedule changes are a fantasy.

People have been chiming in with their opinions on possible schedule changes this week (more short tracks, dirt and road courses among the proposals), but Denny Hamlin says the whole conversation is pointless.

Asked about racing on Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Hamlin said he’d “love to,” but…

“Honestly, none of this is ever going to happen,” he said. “Not until these tracks and NASCAR get together and are willing to make changes. No track is going to give up tens of millions of dollars every time the race cars show up at the racetrack, so it’s going to have take a bold change.

“It’s going to have to take someone way high up saying, ‘We’re making changes and this is what we’re going to do,’ for it to happen. But it definitely won’t happen in the next few years until that contract (through 2020) is over with.”

— Martin Truex Jr. wishes 5-hour decision had come sooner

Defending Cup Series champ Martin Truex Jr. said he wasn’t totally surprised by the decision for sponsor 5-hour Energy to leave the sport — company executives had been “on the fence for awhile,” he said — but the timing leaves Furniture Row Racing in somewhat of a bind.

“I wish it didn’t take quite as long as it did and (it) kind of puts us in a tough spot now,” Truex said. “… I don’t see (team owner) Barney (Visser) putting Furniture Row back on the car and doing that. I don’t know that he can make that work anymore. So we’ll see where it goes from here.”

Truex said he was optimistic the team would be able to find a new sponsor and also still plans to sign a contract extension with the team (his current deal expires at the end of the season). But despite the typical Silly Season months starting to arrive, Truex said he wasn’t too concerned with a contract yet.

“It’s not really a pressing issue for me,” he said. “I know what the team wants. I know where we’re all at. It’s not like I’m nervous they’re going to sign somebody else or I’m going to be searching for a ride. It’s nothing like that. It’s more just trying to focus on racing and feeling like it will get done when it gets done.”

— Joey Logano says New Hampshire could be a case study for tracks having one race.

NASCAR has oversaturated markets like Pocono, Michigan and Kansas by running two races per season at those tracks. Joey Logano is wondering how New Hampshire will respond to having its calendar reduced.

“I think if you go to a racetrack once, it makes it more of an event,” he said. “This weekend will be a great test to see how that works as Loudon goes from two to one. When you think there are two races and you’re a fan that can only afford to go to one, you’re most likely going to choose the playoff race here.

“So it will be interesting to see what the stands look like on Sunday, because now it’s an event. You can’t miss this one and have a chance to go to the next one.”

12 Questions with Joey Logano (2018)

The series of weekly driver interviews continues with Joey Logano of Team Penske. I spoke with Logano last weekend at Pocono Raceway. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but are also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I have dreams a lot about racing. I recently had a dream in Charlotte that it started raining during the race, so I got out of the car, went back to the hauler to get some food and the race started back up without me. And I went running back onto pit road and my team was changing out my seat and they were putting Paul Menard’s seat in.

So I woke up and of course it was raining — like in real life it was raining — and I was like, “Oh my God, am I actually missing this?” And I was nervous. Usually I have dreams about missing things. Which is probably why I’m early to everything in my life.

That’s a good policy though.

Yeah. I like being early. I get really nervous about being late.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Yes, I think it matters. I don’t know about apologizing, but what I’ve learned at least is sometimes it helps just to talk about it. You know? Say, “Hey, here’s what happened.” And if it’s good or bad, at least you know what happened. Talk about it.

A lot of times those conversations aren’t really good, especially if it’s recent, like if it just happened. It’s usually not a good conversation, but I’ve learned in life sometimes the tough conversations are the best ones.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I’d say the biggest compliment would be something about your integrity or who you are as a person. I think a good job, pat on the back doesn’t really hold much. But when someone talks about your character, it probably holds more value to me. Someone that knows me that says something about my character means the most.

Not somebody on Twitter or something?

I appreciate everyone on Twitter and their opinions. But it’s hard to know somebody from just social media alone, which is why I try to do things that show who I am more often, whether you like it or not. Sometimes I think social media, it’s all about the posts, it’s about what you put up — and a lot of people post things that aren’t real life sometimes. And I’m not talking about racing and all that, but just in general. People always post the good days, they don’t post the bad days or the work that gets to that post you put up. So I always take social media with a grain of salt when I look at other people’s stuff.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be really excited to host at a race?

(Deep sigh) I don’t know. (Thinks for a moment)

That was a big sigh. Are you not real big on celebs?

Not really. I mean, I think it’s great we’re bringing celebrities to the racetrack, that means there’s a lot of great things that come along with that for our sport. Honestly, I kind of live in my own little world sometimes. I get excited about meeting people — a lot of times athletes, because I like asking them a bunch of questions. Most of the time, I ask about their life and how they handle pressure and how they handle the family and work and putting all that together — what they do, how they prep for a game. I really enjoy meeting athletes more than probably anyone.

I guess like Tom Brady or somebody would be cool to talk to. But just because I’m a New England fan. No one else really sticks out in my mind, because a lot of times, it’s fun to invite people to the racetrack — but you’re still doing your job, so you never really have time to meet them. I’d rather have the time to go to dinner and actually get to know somebody than just like, “Hey, thanks for coming out, I’ll shake your hand, cool to meet ya.” That doesn’t really get anywhere to me.

5. In an effort to show this is a health conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the No. 1 pit stall for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

Oh yeah.

Really?

So my wife and I watched this documentary called What The Health. Don’t ever watch it, because it scared the crap out of us. (Laughs) And we did go vegan for about two weeks until we said, “What are we doing?” (Laughs) I needed a hamburger. So that was the end of that. But yeah.

So with that being said, I’ve kinda done it already somewhat. If there was like a pot of gold at the end like a first pit stall, yeah. I think let’s do it.

Most people have said no to that?

Yeah, most people said absolutely not, no way. Which I thought was kind of surprising.

There’s still a lot of things you can eat.

Yeah. And a lot of that food is disguised to taste good.

It’s not that bad. If you put enough barbecue sauce on something, you can make anything taste good. (Laughs)

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished. This is the 2014 Michigan spring race for Cup.

Hmm. Is that the one I won? I think I won 2015 there. I think we won that race? No…

No, I don’t make it that easy on you.

Top five?

No.

Seventh?

The answer is ninth. You started ninth, finished ninth, you led 29 laps at one point. Jimmie Johnson won. You finished behind Kyle Larson and ahead of Clint Bowyer. That’s all I know.

Eh. I don’t remember that. (Laughs)

Are you typically good at remembering races or not?

No. Not at all. That’s why I have to write notes and have to rewatch races to remember what happened. I don’t even remember the last time we were at Pocono (in 2017).

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

(Crinkles his face while thinking.) Honestly, I don’t know many rappers.

I wish the face you just made could have translated to the interview.

Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, I listen to a lot of different types of music, and I’ll listen to some rap — but it’s more like older rap, like 90s to early 2000s. But I don’t know. I’m not into music a whole bunch to know that. Like I said, I live in my own little world sometimes, and I don’t really know what’s going on.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

You, for asking the question. How’s that sound? (Laughs)

I’m surprised nobody said that yet. I think I actually do have a punchable face. I’m worried about it at times when I look in the mirror.

If someone’s going to ask that question, you’re probably going to get punched in the face.

That’s fair. I think I might get off this golf cart now though.

(Laughs) Has anyone answered me for that?

I feel like somebody probably has, but I can’t remember. (Editor’s note: It was Martin Truex Jr.)  I feel like somebody said you because it happened to you (with Kyle Busch last year).

It didn’t happen to me.

Oh, that’s right. He missed.

I slipped it. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a punch. Isn’t that how it went? If you can dodge a ball?

I thought at the time you were just saying you didn’t get punched — but you actually didn’t?

No! I did an interview after. You didn’t see it on my face, did you?

No, but I just thought you were trying to save face.

Not my face, at least. I know that.

I believe you.

I will say that the camera did show that it looked like (Busch connected). I will say that.

It was like The Matrix where you’re like barely getting out of the way.

It was close. I think I felt some breeze. Just a cool breeze. (Laughs)

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks. Choose one to be your crew chief, one to be your spotter and one to be your motorhome driver.

I’m gonna say LeBron James is the crew chief.

You like sports guys, so you want him.

Yeah, I feel like he’s gonna have a little sports insight.

I’m gonna put Taylor Swift as the spotter because she’s got a good voice, and that’s a talking job and she’s a singer, so that makes sense. And then Tom Hanks is gonna drive the bus and we’re gonna hang out and have a good time together.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Some places, they don’t have a really good place to go. But whatever’s closest when you get off the truck after the parade lap — you just (go to) whatever’s closest.

It’s always kind of funny for us, because there’s always fans around because fans are smart enough that they figure it out this is where everybody’s going and they sit there and wait. And it’s kind of weird because they want to shake your hand. And I’m gonna be honest with you — I wash my hands, but I don’t see every driver washing their hands in there afterward. And then I see them (going for the handshake) and I’m like, “That’s…um…” and I go for the knuckles on the way out because I don’t want a chance for the germs.

So this is a public service announcement.

Yes. Go for the knuckles. Do that. (Laughs)

11. NASCAR misses the highlight reel value brought by Carl Edwards’ backflips and decides a replacement is needed. How much money would they have to pay you to backflip off your car after your next win?

I’m not sure if I’m capable. I’ve never tried to do a backflip, not even on a trampoline or anything because I’m really scared of landing on my head and my neck. I’ve got a long neck, I’m afraid I’m gonna snap my neck. (Ryan) Newman probably wouldn’t have this problem at all. (Laughs)

But I think you have to look at it and say, how long is it gonna put you out of work? So if it’s gonna put you out your whole career, you need whatever the rest of your career is. Like if it’s gonna paralyze you, the rest of your career is paid. If it’s gonna put you out for three months, then you have to look at that, too. So I think you have to look at worst-case scenario, and that’s what it would cost.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Alexander Rossi and his question was: What do you think of Danica?

I think Danica is a pioneer in our sport from a women’s standpoint in the things that she was able to accomplish. I think what she brought to our sport as far as eyeballs that watched it, a lot of fans came from it, and I think the improvement and the hard work she put into it is admirable.

Obviously, as a woman in our sport has a lot of challenges. I think she overcame a lot of them. Honestly, I think she earned a lot of respect in here that no one really cared if she was a boy or girl or whatever. I don’t think it really mattered at the end. So I look up to her for that, because I think there was a lot that comes with that.

And I also kind of like how she’s smart enough to realize that racing is something that is sometimes here today and gone tomorrow, and she has put herself in position to invest into her future outside of motorsports. I don’t think all athletes do that, so that’s impressive to see. She’s got the wine thing, she’s got some clothing stuff. I think that’s admirable as well. So I think she’s done a lot. I think she should be proud of her career and proud of what the next steps are.

The next interview I’m doing is with a yet-to-be-determined NASCAR driver. Do you have a question I can ask him?

I thought about this a while ago, I was reading one of these articles, and I thought, “Man, I’ve got a good question for next time I do this.” And now I’ve completely forgotten. (Laughs)

That wasn’t the setup I thought you were going for.

I know! I completely forgot. So I’m trying to think of something.

How about, “What do you think of Joey Logano?” (Laughs hysterically) That could be funny. From Joey Logano!

So “What do you think of me?”

I think that’s an alright question. “What do you think of Joey Logano?” (Laughs) I think that’s kinda funny. (Laughs)


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Joey Logano:

April 7, 2010

Feb. 23, 2011

March 7, 2012

Feb. 28, 2013

Feb. 26, 2014

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March 9, 2016

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the Talladega race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway…

1. At long last, Logano has reason to squint again

Joey Logano was strangely irrelevant last year, falling off the map after his encumbered Richmond win. It was hard to understand what happened to that team, which had previously looked like it would be perennial contenders and perhaps even become the next 48 team (I actually thought that for awhile).

But those problems seem mostly fixed now. Logano came into Talladega second in the point standings and left in the same position, except now with a win to lock him into the playoffs.

The Team Penske driver is far from a fan favorite — he gets more boos than cheers, to be sure — but a winning Logano is good for the sport. He seems to ruffle other drivers’ feathers enough to cause some bad blood (the Kyle Busch fight and Matt Kenseth incident at Martinsville, to name a couple) while pissing off fans in the process. And fans need to be pissed off at times, because it’s better than being apathetic.

Logano is a hard-charging, no apologies driver on the track and a surprisingly warm, friendly personality off it. NASCAR needs him to be contending every week, because he’s a veteran by experience and a young gun by age who can be appealing to both audiences.

He’s back now. And by the way, here’s a guess: Logano will go the rest of his career without a winless streak as long as the 36-race drought he just experienced.

2. Ford goodness sake

Ford is seemingly unstoppable at Talladega. Not only did the manufacturer win its six straight race there, but it had six of the top seven finishers on Sunday.

No one was going to be able to touch the front-running Fords without getting help from other Fords. That sounds weird, but just look at Chevrolet’s Chase Elliott: He was third, but had nothing for the top two unless other Fords pushed him into the mix.

Clearly, Fords are still the ones to beat on restrictor-plate tracks. After all, they’ve now won nine of the last 10 plate races and had a driver (Ryan Blaney) who dominated the other race (the Daytona 500 in February).

That dominance is going to last until at least the end of this year, when the other manufacturers can only hope the new Mustang somehow doesn’t race as well on plate tracks in 2019 as the Fusion does right now.

On the topic of new cars, Sunday was another blow for Chevrolet. After winning 13 straight manufacturer titles from 2003-15, the new Camaro gave Chevy teams so much hope coming into this season.

But now Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since the Daytona 500. Since then, it’s been five wins by Ford and four by Toyota. Talladega would have been a much-needed morale boost for Chevy that ultimately didn’t happen.

3. Shoulda woulda coulda

Speaking of missed opportunities, there’s still only been one winner (Austin Dillon) who is outside the top 16 in points this season.

Every other race winner is at least ninth, and four of this season’s six race winners make up the top four in the standings.

So Talladega was a giant missed chance for an underdog driver to steal a playoff bid. Yeah, there are still the two road courses and Daytona — but seeing Talladega won by a driver who is second in the standings had to be a blow for drivers like Bubba Wallace and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who entered the day thinking they could pull off a win.

On the other hand, it potentially opens another spot available to make the playoffs on points, setting up the next 16 races to be one of the fiercer points battles the midfield has seen in recent years.

4. This message brought to you by frustration

Sunday’s race had the fewest lead changes for a Talladega race since 1998, and FOX missed three of the green-flag lead changes while at commercial. It also missed the first Big One.

The amount of commercials was infuriating and, frankly, insulting to the viewers. FOX continues to disrespect the remaining few NASCAR fans who have stuck around to watch the races, apparently with no intention of making any changes to make the broadcasts more tolerable.

I’m not talking about the talent or the production, either. FOX wants to keep the Grid Walk and Boogity Boogity and the Vortex Theory? Fine, whatever.

The immense frustration here lies with the commercials: SHOW. US. THE. RACE!

Sunday’s broadcast reminded me of a timeshare presentation. They lure you to watch Talladega with promises of excitement and action, then waste your time trying to get you to do something you don’t want — in this case, eating artery-clogging KFC and buying whatever drug helps you recover from your KFC-induced heart attack.

FOX not only seems to air as many commercials as ever, but has “innovated” by inserting all sorts of DVR-proof ads right into the broadcast. But this is Emmy-worthy sports coverage, so what do I know?

Along those lines, it doesn’t matter to FOX what I think and it definitely doesn’t matter what you think. FOX execs have instructed its team to get whatever money it can, and if that allows viewers to see part of the race, then lucky us.

NASCAR has many problems. The relentless amount of commercials being shoved down viewers’ throats is among the most pressing, but is also sadly among the least likely to change.

5. Back to real racing

Up next, it’s the May slate of events: Dover, Kansas and the two Charlotte races. The races will be won by (in no particular order): Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and another Gibbs or Stewart-Haas car.

I’m still particularly interested in the Harvick vs. Busch battle. Two different teams and manufacturers, two drivers at different places in their careers and yet equally hungry for more wins and championships. Plus, it seems like their cars are pretty even for now.

Other than that, the summer is rapidly approaching with NASCAR still starving for one of its young drivers to step up and create a secondary storyline that generates some badly needed interest and enthusiasm.