NASCAR Barometer: Logano Takes First Win in Contender Round

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Takes First Win in Contender Round

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano led 227 laps to score the first win in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship Contender Round on Sunday. Charlotte Motor Speedway's Bank of America 500 was originally slated for Saturday night, but rain forced it to be held Sunday afternoon. The delay suited Logano just fine as he dominated the majority of the race under sunny skies.

Matt Kenseth was the race's early pace setter, but wasn't as quick when mired in traffic. That, coupled with fast pit stops put Logano at the front of the field. The day featured a number of the top racers in trouble, with a few Chase contenders among them. There were several right-front tire failures, and Jimmie Johnson suffered his second mechanical failure in as many weeks. Top drivers made mistakes, which enabled Logano to book the first spot in the Eliminator round.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Prior to Sunday, Logano hadn't spent much time leading the field at Charlotte. That changed when he confidently took charge on Sunday. With more than 100 laps remaining, Logano had already spent more than 100 laps out in front, and he didn't look back from that point on. His win pushes him into the next round of the Chase, and he's focused on making it to Miami. Things get better this week, too. Logano won the fall race at Kansas last year and started from pole there earlier this season. His last four races at the track have all been top-5 finishes in which he

Joey Logano led 227 laps to score the first win in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship Contender Round on Sunday. Charlotte Motor Speedway's Bank of America 500 was originally slated for Saturday night, but rain forced it to be held Sunday afternoon. The delay suited Logano just fine as he dominated the majority of the race under sunny skies.

Matt Kenseth was the race's early pace setter, but wasn't as quick when mired in traffic. That, coupled with fast pit stops put Logano at the front of the field. The day featured a number of the top racers in trouble, with a few Chase contenders among them. There were several right-front tire failures, and Jimmie Johnson suffered his second mechanical failure in as many weeks. Top drivers made mistakes, which enabled Logano to book the first spot in the Eliminator round.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Prior to Sunday, Logano hadn't spent much time leading the field at Charlotte. That changed when he confidently took charge on Sunday. With more than 100 laps remaining, Logano had already spent more than 100 laps out in front, and he didn't look back from that point on. His win pushes him into the next round of the Chase, and he's focused on making it to Miami. Things get better this week, too. Logano won the fall race at Kansas last year and started from pole there earlier this season. His last four races at the track have all been top-5 finishes in which he has lead no less than 29 laps in each.

Kevin Harvick – After pulling off a clutch win last week, Harvick backed up that performance with a runner-up finish in Charlotte. While Logano was the clear leader, Harvick was the closest to him. He wasn't able to reel in the No. 22, but he got the second round of the Chase eliminations off to a much better start than last year. He hasn't finished worse than 12th in the last five races at Kansas and started from pole three times in that span. Add to that the fact that he won there in the fall of 2013 and hasn't led fewer than 50 laps in any of the last four races at the track, and you have the recipe for a top contender next week.

Martin Truex Jr. – After a stunning outing at the Charlotte oval in May, Truex increased his Chase hopes with a top-5 finish there on Sunday. The finish was his first top-5 since Michigan in August, and might be a sign that the team is rediscovering its consistency. If the team can leverage recent momentum into rediscovering the form it showed at the beginning of the season, Truex could be a frightening title contender. He's been pretty good at Kansas recently, too. In the last five races at the track he had three top-10 finishes, and he led 95 laps there earlier this season. Truex has the potential to get better as the Chase progresses.

Aric Almirola - It shouldn't be a surprise at this point, but Almirola's top-10 finish on Sunday was remarkable. Almirola now has four top-10 finishes in the last five races. Two of his three top-5 finishes this season have come in this span, and he looks more and more like a driver to be taken seriously each week. Prior to the Bank of America 500, the team said it would be focusing on scoring consistent top-10 finishes next season, and that appears within its grasp right now. Almirola doesn't often get the respect he deserves, and his confident performance last week in Charlotte should give a wake up call to any fantasy owners not paying attention to him already.

DOWNGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth darted out to an early lead on Sunday after scoring the pole position. However, as the race wore on Kenseth found out that his car wasn't as strong in traffic as it was out front. The team's first effort to gain back track position resulted in failure when Kenseth overshot the pit stall. Ultimately, he collided with Ryan Newman and the wall after racing hard for position. The final nail in the coffin happened with about 100 laps remaining when the car reintroduced itself to the wall, which resulted in a severely damaged right front. Kenseth is a two-time winner at Kansas, and his average finish at the track is 13.8, with no finishes worse than 13th in the last five races there.

Kasey Kahne – Kahne found himself in the wall twice in Saturday's race before 100 were completed. The car blew two right-front tires, the second of which cause extensive damage that required a visit to the garage. The No. 5 never returned to the track and scored a last-place finish at one of his best tracks. Kahne has an average finish of 14th at Kansas but hasn't been able to find much luck there so far this season. One further example of that is the fact that he started on the front row at the track earlier this season but only finished 17th. He has three finishes of 15th or worse in the last four Kansas races.

Kyle Busch - Things were going well for Busch on Sunday until a mishap on pit road damaged his well-handling car. Prior to the incident, he had a fast car and was running inside the top 5, but his late decision not to pit caused contact with Kyle Larson. Both cars had significant damage and were top-5 contenders at the time. The first race of the Contender Round didn't do Busch any favors. To make things worse, he has been terrible at Kansas. He scored his first top-5 at the track earlier this season but also has three DNFs in the last five races there. His average finish from 15 starts is 21.4. He needs more to recover some of the ground he lost on Sunday.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Contact with Carl Edwards put Earnhardt in a tough position against the wall early Sunday. Not seeing any tire smoke, the team decided not to bring the car in for service, but eventually one of the tires failed, which put the No. 88 into the wall again, bringing out a caution. The team made repairs to the right side of the car in the pits, and Earnhardt rejoined the fray one lap down. Just before 200 laps were completed, he found himself in the wall again. He had to pit for repairs and never recovered. At Kansas, Earnhardt only has nine top-10 finishes in 18 tries, for an average finish of 15.8 at the track.

Kyle Larson – Larson was having a strong afternoon Sunday in Charlotte before a surprising incident on entry onto pit road knocked him out of contention for a top finish. He had appeared destined to pick up another top-5 finish and may have been able to contend for a win before the day ended. Instead, his late decision to come onto pit road, just as Busch decided against it, caused heavy contact to the left rear of Larson's car. With that, his top-5 turned into a 21st-place finish for the second-year driver. Larson has three prior races at Kansas with a runner-up finish in this race last season. He also led three laps there earlier this year before coming home 15th.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Jimmie Johnson – The rarity of mechanical failures in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing is remarkable. Unfortunately, Johnson has had two in the last two races. The first one knocked him out of the Chase; the second ruined a top afternoon during which the No. 48 was running third with less than 75 laps remaining. Johnson's 2015 peak came too early, just as it did in 2014. The team has nothing to lose and can be aggressive in the remaining races. He has won three times at Kansas and has an average finish of 9.1 in 18 starts. Johnson would appear to be a top option next week, but his current run of bad luck could be a major problem for fantasy owners.

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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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