HAMPTON, Ga. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole winner Kurt Busch seems to have adapted to the 2016 low-downforce competition without missing a beat, but the same can’t be said for Team Penske driver Joey Logano, one of the preseason favorites to win the series title this year.
Logano, who garnered the Coors Light Pole Award at Atlanta Motor Speedway last year, wasn’t close to having his No. 22 Ford dialed in when the series returned to the 1.54-mile track on Friday. The six-time pole winner from 2015 was 26th fastest in the first round of knockout qualifying, failing to transfer into the second round by .054 seconds.
“We were just really loose,” Logano said after his second attempt to crack the top 24. “I don’t really understand. We weren’t super-fast in practice, but we were a top-10 car for sure. We were really, really loose the first run and made some changes, but it’s hard to go fast here the second run when tires wear out so much. We did go a little faster, but that one kind of hurts.
“We’ve got to figure it out. We’ve got a little bit of work to do. It’s obviously a new package, and we apparently don’t have our heads wrapped around it perfectly yet, but we’ll get it. We’ve just got to keep our heads down and keep digging. It’s still a long weekend here. I thought we were pretty good in race trim. We just have to race a little bit from the back now.”
Based on Saturday’s final practice, however, Logano still has work to do. The No. 22 Ford was 32nd fastest on the Happy Hour speed chart.
The drivers who finished 1-2 in last Sunday’s Daytona 500 held those same positions on the speed chart at the conclusion of final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice on Saturday at Atlanta.
Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in the 80-minute session at 188.450 mph. Martin Truex Jr., whom Hamlin beat to the finish line by four inches in the 500, was close behind at 188.226 mph.
Three Hendrick Motorsports drivers followed the two Toyotas—Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott. That’s a good indication those drivers will be faster relative to the field in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 than they were in Friday’s time trials, when Earnhardt qualified 16th, Johnson 19th and Elliott 24th.