NASCAR Barometer: Logano’s Richmond Breakthrough

NASCAR Barometer: Logano’s Richmond Breakthrough

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano headed a Penske Racing one-two finish at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday. Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski led 135 combined laps Sunday afternoon to overcome a serious fight from Joe Gibbs Racing. The win was Logano's first of 2017 and the third of the season for Penske. It came from smart pit work that provided him his most capable machine in the final laps, and was solidified by a noticeable lack of mistakes, which gave Logano the shot at the win and cost the JGR teammates yet another opportunity to get on the scoreboard this season.

Matt Kenseth started from pole and dominated the first segment of the race, but Penske came on strong in the second. First, Keselowski found his way to the front to win the second segment, and then it was Logano's turn to take the point in the final portion to score the race win. Smart and tactical decisions on and off pit road made the difference, and Logano will now have a fresh dose of confidence heading into the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday where he has won twice.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano had yet to find Victory Lane in 2017, but he had been in contention nearly every week. The breakthrough finally came in Richmond. His consistent effort throughout the afternoon put him just behind teammate Keselowski in the closing laps, and he leveraged that to jump out to the lead and his first

Joey Logano headed a Penske Racing one-two finish at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday. Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski led 135 combined laps Sunday afternoon to overcome a serious fight from Joe Gibbs Racing. The win was Logano's first of 2017 and the third of the season for Penske. It came from smart pit work that provided him his most capable machine in the final laps, and was solidified by a noticeable lack of mistakes, which gave Logano the shot at the win and cost the JGR teammates yet another opportunity to get on the scoreboard this season.

Matt Kenseth started from pole and dominated the first segment of the race, but Penske came on strong in the second. First, Keselowski found his way to the front to win the second segment, and then it was Logano's turn to take the point in the final portion to score the race win. Smart and tactical decisions on and off pit road made the difference, and Logano will now have a fresh dose of confidence heading into the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway this Sunday where he has won twice.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano had yet to find Victory Lane in 2017, but he had been in contention nearly every week. The breakthrough finally came in Richmond. His consistent effort throughout the afternoon put him just behind teammate Keselowski in the closing laps, and he leveraged that to jump out to the lead and his first win of the season. Continuing to put himself in positions like that will give him the opportunity to win more races soon, perhaps catching Keselowski, who is one of the two multiple-race winners so far. Logano has two wins in the last three Talladega races, and it seems like just a matter of time before he notches even more wins this season.

Brad Keselowski – Winning the second stage of Sunday's race brought Keselowski back to life in the season where he has already won two races. In fact, Keselowski had three top-10 finishes out of four races before his runner-up finish in Richmond. The Penske Racing driver's Ford came into its own in the closing laps of that first stage on Sunday and earned its driver valuable points in what is becoming a monstrous season. With four Talladega wins it would be hard to expect a disappointment from Keselowski this week, too. He and his team are back on their game after a rough patch in Bristol, and fantasy players shouldn't hesitate to look his direction this week.

Denny Hamlin – It seems to be just a matter of time before Joe Gibbs Racing overcomes the bad luck that has kept them out of Victory Lane so far this season. Hamlin only had one top-10 finish heading into last week's race, but he delivered a solid performance to earn another on Sunday. His third-place finish at Richmond was his fourth top 10 of the season and his first top five. The team hasn't yet found their breakthrough, but all of the veteran drivers are close. Hamlin made up significant ground in Richmond, and fantasy players can see his confidence growing. He has just one Talladega win but did finish third in the fall race last season. He should be a confident early selection.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse and Roush Fenway Racing haven't made the upgrade column often, but last week's Richmond performance earned it. Stenhouse's fourth-place finish equaled his starting position and was his third top-10 finish in the last five races. That's an incredible run of form from a driver and team struggling to score top-20s last year. Stenhouse now has two top-fives and four top-10s so far this year in what looks to be one of their most promising seasons in the past few years. Next week's race could extend the good fortune, too. In seven career Talladega starts Stenhouse has scored two top fives and four top 10s, the most recent of which came last fall when he led six laps and finished fifth.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – Jones found himself out early on Sunday after some impressive performances. The rookie driver has had a strong start to his first season in Cup competition, but contact with Kasey Kahne ended what could have been a very promising afternoon. The rookie had shown in practice that he had a car capable of quickly moving to the front to lead on Sunday, but all of that potential went out the window before even 10 laps were in the books. He failed to finish in both Talladega starts in the Xfinity series and was equally poor at Daytona earlier this year when he finished 39th. This young driver displays plenty of potential but needs the luck to go along with his promise.

Matt Kenseth – A surge in qualifying put Kenseth on pole and that starting position enabled him to dominate the first segment of Sunday's race at Richmond. Kenseth, like his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, had suffered a run of bad luck until the tide seemed to change Sunday afternoon. That wasn't meant to be, however. Kenseth suffered a terrible end to what should have been a fantastic afternoon on Sunday despite leading 164 laps. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver cut a tire late in the race and lost position and time to the leaders with the trouble, ending and otherwise impressive afternoon. Kenseth won Talladega's fall race in 2012 but hasn't finished in the top 20 there in the last two seasons.

Ryan Blaney – Richmond was another stop on the schedule where Blaney's finish didn't meet expectations. His 36th-place result was a terrible disappointment considering how strong he had been through the week's practice sessions. The second-year driver even started on the front row Sunday but suffered contact with the wall late in the race that robbed him of any chance of a top finish. It was his second consecutive finish worse than 30th and his third finish outside of the top 20 in the last four races. Just finishing races without trouble should be his goal now. In five Talladega starts Blaney has three finishes inside the top 15 including one top five and 18 laps led. He should have a powerful machine this week, but his inconsistency is a big concern.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Sunday was another frustrating day for Earnhardt. The veteran driver, who just announced his impending retirement, didn't have a weekend to remember at Richmond. His afternoon effectively ended with a spin with less than 50 laps remaining in the event. The poor finish marked his third finish outside of the top 30 in the last four races, and he is now watching his sole remaining shot at a championship slowly slip away. Talladega is one track where Earnhardt can feel confident no matter what the previous weeks brought, however. He has six circuit wins from 33 career starts, and this upcoming week could be one of his best chances to score a win in his final season in the series.

Kyle Busch – Yet again, Busch walked away from another race weekend feeling let down by his finish. He can't blame anyone but than himself, though. Late in the running, he was lured by Logano into a late pit entrance, which earned him a penalty that ended his chances to challenge for the win. Late-race perfection is a must on pit road, and Busch simply made a mistake. That has been the trend of this 2017 season for him so far, too. Fantasy players shouldn't question his pace or his ability to win, but they have to be asking when he'll avoid small problems. Busch has one Talladega win from 23 career starts, and his current run of luck isn't a confidence booster.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Aric Almirola – Those paying attention would have seen us call out Almirola's chances for a top finish earlier in the week. The Richard Petty Motorsports driver delivered on Sunday. His ninth-place finish was his second top-10 of the season and first since the opening round. The team hasn't shown the promise they did in the past two seasons, but continuing to make appearances in the top 10 will allow them to take advantage of breaks that come their direction. No one would expect this team or driver to come out and win, but consistent finishes in the top 20 along with the odd top-10 make them contenders for fantasy rosters. Talladega is one track where fantasy players should ignore Almirola at their peril. He finished eighth their last fall and could replicate his Daytona top five again this week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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