SONOMA, Calif. – Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney both battled tire problems in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway, but managed to come away with top 10 finishes to lead Ford.
Logano encountered his tire problem during the first run, but thanks to some sound strategy by crew chief Paul Wolfe he was able to score points in stage two and maintain track position for a fourth-place finish. Blaney also suffered similar tire problems throughout the day, in addition to a couple of other on-track incidents that left his No. 12 Mustang beaten and bruised, but it was still good enough to finish 10th.
The Front Row Motorsports duo of Michael McDowell and Anthony Alfredo were both in line for top-10 finishes, but each got collected in multi-car incidents over the final 10 laps as there were four restarts in the final 11 laps, including an overtime finish. McDowell finished 28th after getting spun on the final turn while Alfredo was 31st.
Kevin Harvick suffered a similar fate as his top 10 run was spoiled with 11 laps to go when he was part of a seven-car incident that tore off his left-front fender. He was forced to settle for 22nd.
The NASCAR Cup Series will take a break from points racing next week as the annual All-Star Race takes place for the first time at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
NCS RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st — Kyle Larson
2nd — Chase Elliott
3rd — Martin Truex Jr.
4th — Joey Logano
5th — Kyle Busch
6th — Kurt Busch
7th — Ross Chastain
8th — Denny Hamlin
9th — Alex Bowman
10th — Ryan Blaney
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
15th — Brad Keselowski
16th — Chris Buescher
17th — Chase Briscoe
20th — Cole Custer
22nd — Kevin Harvick
23rd — Matt DiBenedetto
26th — Scott Heckert
27th — Aric Almirola
28th — Michael McDowell
29th — Josh Bilicki
31st — Anthony Alfredo
32nd — Garrett Smithley
33rd — Ryan Newman
JOEY LOGANO, No. 22 Autotrader Ford Mustang
“We’ll take it. We had the tire issue the first run and that got our strategy off. Paul did some different things and we were able to get some stage points in the second stage. We had nothing to beat the 5, if I’m being honest, but our Autotrader Mustang was good enough to finish top three or four. We kind of did that one stop strategy the last run there and got to where we were probably a third-place car if we had the same tires as the cars racing around us, but, overall, we’ll take that considering how it was looking in the beginning. It’s fun to be out here in Sonoma again and great to see so many fans back out in the grandstands and around this racetrack.”
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A GOOD ROAD COURSE RACER? YOU HAVE A TOP 5 FINISH IN ALL OF THEM THIS YEAR.
“I like to think we’re getting pretty decent at them. I’m a little bit more confident and racing better. I feel like around cars I’m pretty aggressive. I’m making the passes and can make it happen. You watch drivers ike AJ and Ambrose and watching those guys over the years, for me, maybe I’m dating myself a bit, but you watch them and how they make passes and I feel like I’m to a point where I can feel confident sending it down in there and making a clean pass, but an aggressive pass, and I’ve got a car that can do it. I wouldn’t say we’re clicking because we didn’t win, but I think we’re in the ballpark and we’re making small gains. It’s hard to make the big gain. The Hendrick cars are just better no matter where you’re at. They’re just better right now, so we have to keep our heads down and keep digging, but know that our 750 stuff is in the ballpark so that part is nice to know. Overall, to overcome the tire issue that we had early in the race and then our Autotrader Mustang got some stage points in the second stage and having good long run speed made the strategy work at the end to get us to the front and hang onto it “
DID YOU HAVE TO APPROACH THE RACE ANY DIFFERENT WITH NO PRACTICE HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME?
“Not really. I actuially think if you’re careful for the first few laps, you get eaten up. You’ve got to just go. It’s where the experienced drivers probably have an advantage because you think about it’s my 13th or 14th time coming out here, so I kind of know where I’m going. Even without practice laps you kind of just fire off. If I think about my first couple of seasons here it took a few laps of practice just to get even close, but now you kind of know where you need to be. With simulation these days you’re able to kind of be in the zone and have something somewhat close — at least braking markers to be in the ballpark when you’re starting and not just going in blind.”
DO YOU FEEL GOOD WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW?
“It’s hard to say it’s good when you’re not winning, at least that’s for me. You get paid to win> Top fives are great and running towards the front is good, but we need more speed to beat them. The 5 is the class of the field right now. You’ve got a really good driver and a really good car and that’s what you get. We’ve got to keep working, keep grinding. I have to keep grinding as a driver. We’ve got to keep grinding as a team and finding it. Everything goes through cycles, so we’ve just got to make sure we’re on the top end of the cycle when the playoffs come around.”
IS LARSON DOING ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY THAT YOU CAN SEE?
“I haven’t gone back and looked at anything, but he’s always been fast here. He has speed here, I’d say he just has a car that hangs on for him now. That’s probably the difference. These road course, as much as everyone wants to say it’s all the driver, it’s 50-50 like everywhere else. A great driver can only do so much in a mediocre car and vice versa the other way around, so I always think it’s 50-50 and I think now he’s got both and that’s why we’re all racing with our tongues hanging out trying to catch him.”
IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE WHEN YOU GET THE RIGHT COMBINATION OF A CREW CHIEF AND DRIVER, DOESN’T IT?
“Yeah, once you start running well and you start gaining confidence that momentum keeps rolling and rolling and rolling until something trips it up, so that’s our job — to figure out how to trip it up and figure out how to be faster than them and beat them at their game. I like that challenge. That’s why we do what we do. We love it because this is hard. You’re racing against the best stock car racers in the world, so that’s what’s fun about it, and the best teams all the way through, so it’s nice to know that we’re in the ballpark. This used to be one of our toughest racetracks as a team, as Team Penske. This was a tough one for us and we’ve been making gains at it and getting closer and closer. It’s nice to see our car in the top five, but it’s still not there yet.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAS MADE THEM SO HOT LATELY?
“You just kind of get everything going at the right time. There are times your motors are really good, but your cars aren’t right and vice versa. Maybe sometimes your driver’s not on it or the pit crew’s not on it, or your strategy is not working. Having all of it click at the same time is so important and they have that. The speed in their car is what’s making them the best right now because they can make mistakes. They haven’t, but they have the ability to make mistakes and recover, especially on 550s, where they can definitely recover and not many cars can pass with that package right now because everybody is running about the same speed, except them so he’s able to recover. It’s everything together. When you look at their car it goes faster in the corner and it goes like hell down the straightaways too, so it’s just figuring what that is. It’s not gonna be one easy thing where you say, ‘Oh, there it is,’ but over time we’ll close the gap. It happens all the time. Remember, a couple years ago we were saying Hendrick couldn’t win a race and now look at them, so it goes in cycles and we’ve just got to keep working hard to get back on top.”
HOW DICEY WERE THE LAST 10 LAPS?
“They were pretty fun. I had a blast out there today. I was hanging on. The last few laps you know you have a decent finish ahead of you — maybe those two would get into each other. You really think that teammates probably aren’t gonna do it, but, overall it worked out OK. You’re waiting for the big dive bombs and you’re trying to pass the car in front of you, but I just couldn’t get close enough to the 19.”
ANY TALK OF COMING IN AT ALL?
“No, it was way too late.”
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 DEX Imaging Ford Mustang
“We were never on the right tires with the right track position. We were kind of all over the place. I thought we were in a pretty good spot with 25-30 to go and we kept delaminating tires. We had a delaminated rear and I was in the dirt with no grip, and then we got sandwiched there and that’s kind of just what happens. That’s probably the ugliest top 10 car I’ve ever had, that’s for sure, but I’m proud of them for sticking with it. I just wish the strategy worked out a little bit better than what it did. We just couldn’t really catch a break at the right time, but, overall, ending up in 10th isn’t too bad.”
MICHAEL MCDOWELL, No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang
“That was super unfortunate there at the end. We were running eighth coming to the white flag. We had a really good Love’s Travel Stops Mustang and got track position at the end. The last couple of restarts went well, but bumper cars didn’t work out there on the last lap and, unfortunately, it didn’t work out. We had another top 10 going, but didn’t finish it off. You’ll have that. They’ve gone our way a lot this year, so still proud of everybody with the effort. We were in position to do it again, but it just didn’t go our way.”
COLE CUSTER, No. 41 Autodesk/HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang
“It was definitely a battle all day. We got the car better and better, but for our first time at Sonoma it was a little tough to not have any practice here. We worked on it all day and survived and I think we got a decent finish, but it just wasn’t the day we wanted. We’ll go back and figure out how to make it better.”
CHASE BRISCOE, No. 14 Ford Performance Racing School Ford Mustang
“I felt like yesterday just learning the racetrack was big. These cars just drive so much different, so it’s hard to really take a ton away from that, but I felt like I just could never get the car to do what I wanted it to do. We just struggled for forward drive. It would have been nice if we had gotten practice because we could have worked on some of those things. In the race it’s just so hard to take the time to make those adjustments. I felt like we made the right calls track position-wise, but just didn’t get the cautions like we were hoping for, but to come out of here with a top 20 I felt like I learned a lot throughout the race and got better and that’s all you can kind of ask for right now.”