JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Joey Logano went from the front to the back of the pack in the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The pole-sitter was forced to drop out of Sunday’s rain-delayed race at Chicagoland Speedway when his engine quit with 91 laps remaining. About 50 laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr., another Chase qualifier, wound up following him onto pit road with a race-ending problem of his own.
Logano finished 37th, a tough start to NASCAR’s 10-race, season-ending playoff series.
“I am pretty angry,” Logano said. “That was such a fast race car we had.”
Logano qualified for the Chase for the first time this year, and was embroiled in the scandal-plagued race at Richmond last weekend. After a wide-ranging investigation, NASCAR officials punished Michael Waltrip Racing for its role in manipulating the race.
Logano wound up benefiting from the maneuvers by other drivers trying to aid a teammate. His Penske Racing team was placed on probation Friday for its role in bargaining for track position at Richmond to get Logano in the Chase.
But Logano’s problems Sunday night were all on the track. He had gone to pit road once before his exit, complaining of cylinder problems with his Ford.
“Unfortunately the motor blew up. You have these every once in a while,” said Logano, teammate of defending series champion Brad Keselowski. “It’s a bummer to have it in the Chase when you are running for a championship. I feel like Chicago was one of those tracks we could win at. Everyone was doing the right thing. … It just wasn’t our day I guess.”
The question going forward is whether Logano can make up the deficit. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished 39th in the 2006 playoff opener and came back to win the title. But he only dropped to ninth in what was a 10-driver qualifying field at the time; Logano will head to the next Chase race in last in the 13-driver field.
“Everyone did a good job. That is what we have to hold our heads up about,” he said. “It is a tough break for this team. We are strong. We have battled through a lot of adversity this year and we will keep doing it.”