Joey Logano couldn’t immediately explain why the handling of his dominant car went away at the halfway point at Phoenix.
Joey Logano was in control of his championship destiny, and perhaps a chance at winning the race altogether, until he suddenly, inexplicably wasn’t.
Logano led 93 of the first 176 laps on Sunday at the Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, Arizona and was poised to return to the Championship 4 with a chance to defend his 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
He entered the race with a comfortable 20-point margin but was at-risk of being dis-planted by a winner from below the cutline.
What happened next, happened suddenly, and without immediate explanation.
He was leading on Lap 176 when he was passed by Denny Hamlin, in what was a rare on-track green flag pass for the lead on Sunday. He said his car fired off tight, forcing him to rely on clean air to turn the car. As a result, he used up his right front tire. Logano began sinking through the top-five and then outside of the top-10. He was lapped by Hamlin on lap 238.
With Hamlin leading, Logano needed to outpoint Kyle Busch. With Busch finishing second to Hamlin, that sealed Logano’s fate, with the defending champion coming up seven points short.
He just didn’t understand how it happened.
“I don’t know (and) I have no idea,” Logano said after the race. “It went from a really good car to a car that couldn’t stay on the lead lap with changing tires and a half pound of air. A lot of things don’t line up there. That doesn’t make any sense.
“The car shouldn’t do that, but it did and once we put tires back on it we got to where we could run competitive at least again, but we were so far back and I was running so hard trying to get back to the 11 that we ended up using it up again.”
Logano’s championship came one season after missing the playoffs in 2017. The title triumph came against the three most dominant drivers of the year, a dynamic he called “the Big Three and Me.”
He was left hoping that Busch would have passed Hamlin for the win on the late restart, a turn of events that would have put him back into the championship round — a would-be rematch of the “Big Three and Me” from 2018.
“You’re up there wishing that somebody gets up there and passes him, but the 18 wasn’t gonna pass him,” Logano said of the Gibbs teammates. “He could have but wasn’t going to obviously to have all of their cars in, so it is what it is. We’ll move forward.”
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