In the space of one pit stop, Joey Logano’s car went from a frontrunner to a backmarker, with no reasonable explanation.
The abrupt deterioration of the handling of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford hastened the defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion’s exit from the lead lap in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway and ultimately from this year’s title picture.
Logano won the second stage of Sunday’s Round of 8 elimination race, but after a pit stop during the stage break, the No. 22 Mustang tightened up to the extreme. After race winner Denny Hamlin passed him for the lead on Lap 177, Logano faded to 11th and fell a lap down to Hamlin on Lap 238 of 312.
Logano finished ninth, seven points behind runner-up Kyle Busch and seven points out of the Championship 4, thanks to Hamlin’s clutch victory.
“I went from a car that could lead and win a stage and run really well, and from what they told me, it was an air pressure adjustment made it go from a winning car to can’t stay on the lead lap, and one of the tightest things I’ve ever driven,” Logano said ruefully after the race. “I don’t really understand it. It doesn’t make any sense.
“You change tires and change a half pound of air, that sounds ridiculous. It is what it is. Just wasn’t our year to make it, I guess. But we’ll fight for fifth, I guess, in points for this year, and we’ll move on. It stinks. It hurts a little bit, but we’ll live.
“Everything is going to be OK. Life is a lot worse in other ways for some. We’re still fortunate to be here and get to do what we love. It’s a bummer, for sure. It doesn’t take anything away from that, but it’s just part of the game sometimes.”