By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Martinsville, Va. – A runner-up finish wasn’t something Joey Logano was upset over after a rough Martinsville Speedway race.
The two-time and defending NASCAR Cup Series champion was trapped in the back of the field throughout most of the NOCO 400. Logano started at the rear after the team found a leak in the water tank prior to the race.
With the far more level playing field that NASCAR’s Gen 7 (Next Gen) car has created, Logano struggled to more forward. As a result, the Team Penske driver stayed out longer during green flag pit stops, hoping for a caution. The No. 22 Verizon 5G Ford Mustang caught that caution when Anthony Alfredo’s right rear wheel detached on the racetrack.
Logano restarted inside the top-10 for the first time in the race with 88 laps to go. A caution with 50 laps to go provided an opportunity. Using what they learned from Ross Chastain earlier in the race, the Paul Wolfe led team opted to stay out. They were joined by Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Chastain, on old worn tires, held off the fresh tires for about 30 laps in Stage 2. Logano attempted the same, but with only a handful of cars not pitting, Kyle Larson was quick to catch the Ford Performance driver. Logano blocked, made his car as wide as possible to hold Larson off for 17 laps.
However, he couldn’t hold off the 2021 NASCAR champion for long. With 30 laps to go, Larson took the top spot. Logano ultimately finished second after running outside the top-20 for the first 300 laps.
“(The car) needed to fire off,” Logano said. “We were just way too tight in the center and slow. And then (we did) a good job at getting where it needed to be and there’s some trial and error changes throughout that to try to figure out how to get to that point.
“Once he got me rotate through the center, I was like, ‘all right, I mean, I could run like 20th now,’ but I was just stuck in traffic and ran long, got a caution there when somebody’s tire was on the racetrack. We stayed out again and that strategy worked out really well.
“We stayed out again and put ourselves on the front row, needed a few more to stay out with us to be able to win the race and trap Larson a little further back, but overall. I’m usually mad about second place, but in this case that’s the best we’re going to be.”
Being trapped outside the top-20, Logano failed to earn any stage points. At the end of Stage 1, Logano was the free pass, having been lapped by Ryan Preece.
The runner-up finish was Logano’s third top-five of the 2023 Cup Series season. It was also the 152nd top-five of his career.
The top-five kept Logano 11th in the points standings. He’s locked into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by virtue of his victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway a few weeks ago.
Next for Logano and the NASCAR Cup Series is the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The 32-year-old has three wins at the 2.66-mile track with nine top-five and 11 top-10 finishes in 28 starts.
The GEICO 500 is scheduled for Sunday, April 23 at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.