It was easy to hear the relief and elation in Joey Logano’s voice after No. 22 team driver Penske Ford put his car on pole for Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. HE on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“Oh, it was so necessary for all of us here,” said Logano, who battled for a 29th-place finish last Monday at Dover. “The last two weeks have been quite difficult, with a few crashes and no strength at Dover.”
On the weekend back on the too-tough-to-tame track, Logano sports a paint scheme reminiscent of the quarter-midget racer he rode as a kid.
“It’s come full circle for me,” said Logano, who covered the 1.366-mile distance in 28.805 seconds (170.720 mph) in Saturday’s qualifying round. “It’s my first quarter-midget paint scheme – it’s got all the same stuff on it since I was a kid.”
In taking his first pole of the season, his first at Darlington and the 23rd of his career, Logano edged Kyle Larson (170.236 mph) by 0.082 seconds. Christopher Bell qualified third at 169.818 mph, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, as the Toyota drivers claimed starting positions three through six.
Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, William Byron and Tyler Reddick will start from positions 7-10 on Sunday after qualifying for the final round of time trials.
Neither Chase Elliott nor Kevin Harvick made the qualifying races after suffering punctures in Saturday practice. Elliott was forced into a back-up car after hard contact with the wall, and Harvick’s team spent the qualifying session replacing the No. 4 Ford’s damaged rear diffuser.
Both drivers will start from the back of the pack on Sunday.
Chase Elliott pleased with William Byron’s contract extension
Team owner Rick Hendrick has long said he is happy with the current driver line-up at Hendrick Motorsports.
Earlier this week, Hendrick backed up his words with deeds, signing 24-year-old William Byron to a three-year contract extension that will keep him with the organization until at least 2025.
Trackhouse Racing’s Byron and Ross Chastain are the only two drivers in the series to claim two wins so far this season.
Chase Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion, said he’s happy to have Byron in the fold for the next few years. Elliott is signed to Hendrick through 2027. Teammates Kyle Larson, the series defending champion, and Alex Bowman are signed through the 2023 season.
All four Hendrick drivers have at least one victory in the first 11 races this year and are virtually guaranteed to qualify for the Cup Series playoffs.
“I think it’s great,” Elliott said of Byron’s extension. “These three guys deserve their opportunities in my eyes, and I think they’ve done a great job. They’ve been very successful and raced very well over the past two years.
“So yeah, I think that’s a good thing. When a guy or a girl deserves an opportunity, and they’re able to achieve it and they have one like all of our guys, I think that says a lot about them I think HMS is in a really strong position right now.
“I feel like we’re all working very well together. It’s just kind of a smooth operation, which is good. I think that’s a good thing. I’m happy for William, and considering hearing from him this week, I think he’s very deserving. I look forward to racing with him and working with him over the next few years as well.
Denny Hamlin hopes to put lingering mistakes behind him
With the exception of one race – a welcome victory at Richmond Raceway – Denny Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team have been awfully consistent this season.
The very embodiment of Murphy’s Law, Hamlin and his team have found a wide variety of ways to spoil promising NASCAR Cup Series races.
“It’s frustrating,” said Hamlin, who is Darlington’s top active winner with four wins. “I mean, honestly, it’s just been, you know, week after week of being the coyote knocking the anvil on your head.”
Last week at Dover a tire fell off Hamlin’s car as he left pit road because the tire iron gun had inadvertently ejected the only lug used in the Cup Series this year. Hamlin finished 21st, one lap down. Even with Richmond’s win, his average result this season is 22.5 from 11 runs, and he’s 23rd in the Cup standings.
“We had some things that just broke,” Hamlin said. “I’ve had more mechanical breakdowns this year than I’ve ever had. Again, you know, some of these parts we don’t control, and NASCAR keeps changing them and developing them to make them better so that we don’t have a lot of issues, but we’ve just kind of been the poster child of those who break things.
“It’s unfortunate, but I can tell you it’s very different racing in the top 10 every week and trying to figure out how you’re going to get enough speed to win. That’s what I would really like worry.
Kyle Larson misses NASCAR Hall of Fame voting day – for good reason
Traditionally, the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion is included on the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel, but Kyle Larson had a significant dispute that kept him out of attendance last Wednesday.
As the winner of the 2021 Coca-Cola 600, Larson – along with Hendrick Motorsports Vice President Jeff Gordon – flew to Washington, D.C. to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery .
This honor is part of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Mission 600, the purpose of which is to honor the military. The focal point is the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day weekend.
“It was a cool experience, for sure,” Larson said of the trip to Arlington. “It really puts things into perspective. It makes you respect the men and women of the military and all those who have given us the ultimate sacrifice and (those who) continue to serve.
“It was a great experience and hopefully I can get back to it one day. It would be great to win the 600 again and be able to go there next year; take my wife and maybe take my dad and make it there. a little more experience.