Let’s be clear: Joey Logano making the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase in 2013 should be considered a coup, not an expectation.
At 23 years old, Logano has underachieved in the eyes of many, but not under the watchful eye of Penske Racing, his new home at which he is blossoming this year. He’d be more firmly in Chase contention if not for the 25-point penalty incurred earlier this season, but 16th with a bullet probably also suffices for developing ahead of schedule.
The clean bill of prospect development and a crash course from an intelligent personnel base is, seemingly, what Logano needed to scrub away any thoughts of his underachievement at Joe Gibbs Racing. With four races left in the race to the Chase, Logano and his No. 22 team have emerged as fascinating outsiders to watch in an attempt to become an unexpected playoff participant.
7.6 Dating back to the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and omitting two 40th-place finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire, Logano has averaged a 7.6-place finish in nine of the last 11 races.
With those bad finishes included, Logano’s average drops to 13.5, but the bigger point is this: the No. 22 team is a dependable top-10 finisher barring the bizarre and that’s exactly where a team on the bubble for this year’s Chase needs to be. His finish deviation in that nine-race sample size is a staggeringly consistent 2.24 (the closer to zero, the better), meaning his fourth- to 11th-place finish range is about as bankable as any you will find in the series right now.
There is also some specific optimism heading into this weekend’s race.
5.5 Logano and the No. 22 team led the June race at Michigan in average running position, with a 5.5-place spot.
He finished ninth in the race, a disappointment of about 3.5 positions. Logano and team are in need of a worm-turning victory and Michigan might be the track to find it. Considering the team’s second-place finish by a hair at similar-sized Auto Club Speedway earlier this year, there is much reason to believe that the Todd Gordon-led bunch has a nifty two-mile track setup up their sleeves. Whether they can capitalize on the track that suits them best will be worth watching.
Of course, if the last two years at MIS have taught us anything, it is that the youngster will have to fend off a specific cast of characters that seem to thrive on the Brooklyn, Mich. track.
77.4% Greg Biffle scored the win at Michigan earlier this season, thanks in part to a high pass efficiency of 77.4 percent.
Far and away the best results-getting driver, statistically, on the current track surface, Biffle has dominated without dominating. He led 48 laps in June, but ranked third behind Logano and Matt Kenseth (5.6) in average running position (6.9). His win at MIS last season came after a certain week-to-week favorite encountered mechanical trouble (more on this below).
If he isn’t the outright speediest racer on Sunday, he’ll be forced to once again pull from his bag of tricks. If he’s near the front, expect that he’ll be able to leap frog a few competitors.
5 In June’s race at MIS, there were five drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne — who led at least seven percent of the race and failed to finish inside the top half of the field.
Some heavy hitters dropped like flies on what seemed poised to be a good afternoon of points-padding racing. Maladies aside, the poor finishes affect the track-specific production ratings now, but doesn’t mean the aforementioned drivers aren’t speedy in the Irish Hills.
14.5, 9.9 and 9.2 The average running positions for Jimmie Johnson in three races on the current Michigan track surface were 14.5, 9.9 and 9.2.
Haters of the five-time champ shouldn’t rest easy because his base result record on the new iteration of MIS isn’t easy on the eye. His 20th-place average finish over this time frame is misleading, to say the least. He finished 27th and 28th in the last two races, the former due to an engine failure while contending for the win in the race’s final laps.
4.333 Marcos Ambrose’s three-race Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) at Michigan is a 4.333, the third-best rating among 44 Cup Series drivers.
In last week’s “Numbers Game,” I wrote about the no-win situation Ambrose would inevitably face at Watkins Glen. Could Michigan provide a shot at redemption? Last year, he sat on the pole and finished ninth in the spring race and scored a top 5 in the summer event. This year, in the Gen-6 car, he started and finished 23rd in a Ford that lacked the necessary speed (it ranked 27th in average green-flag speed) to work wonders at the two-mile track. Could last year’s notes finally have been translated to this year’s No. 9 car?
David Smith is the founder of Motorsports Analytics LLC and the creator of NASCAR statistics for projections, analysis and scouting. Follow him on Twitter at@DavidSmithMA.
Photos byAction Sports, Inc.