As the Duck Commander 500 wound down, closer and closer to the finish, Joey Logano kept talking to himself.
“Where’s the white flag? Where’s the white flag?”
Then he saw a car lose a tire.
“Please, no caution. Please, no caution.”
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Then he saw the yellow flag.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!”
No kidding. Half a lap from taking the white flag, which would have made him the winner from that point if the yellow came out, a caution extended the race by two “overtime” laps.
“My heart dropped. I got angry instantly,” he said.
But it did not matter. Logano, a 23-year-old from Middletown, Conn., had the best car in the race by that time, and that’s all that mattered. He exited pit road in third place but as the first car with four tires. And at the green flag, he made quick work of two-tire leaders Jeff Gordon and Brian Vickers to become the seventh winner in seven races to start the NASCAR season, a Chase-era record.
The victory Monday was his first at Texas Motor Speedway, and he crossed the finish line as the youngest Sprint Cup winner at TMS at 23 years, 10 months and 14 days.
“When my car’s good, I’m not talking much,” Logano said, explaining what was going through his mind in the last stages of the race, first with Brad Keselowski trying to hunt him down and then when he saw Kurt Busch blow a tire a lap and a half from the finish.
“I had plenty to say when the caution came out. But nothing real productive,” he said.
Logano said he had to keep his composure.
“You get so mad, you barely can control yourself. At least for me,” he said. “I tried to stay as calm as I could. I’m young. I got a lot of fire in me. I get mad; I feel like I should, as any competitive person would. But I also stayed calm enough to keep my eyes on the prize; do what I had to do to get back in the situation to be sitting here now.”
Where he is now is a Chase qualifier, provided there aren’t more than 16 winners, and he remains in the top 30 in points. But the way he’s running, Logano doesn’t really have to worry about that.
He moved up to fourth in the standings and is one of seven drivers with a victory. In one season and seven races with Team Penske and crew chief Todd Gordon, Logano has two victories, matching his total for the previous four years at Joe Gibbs Racing, and 15 top-5s, just one fewer than the 16 he had at JGR.
“I think Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR and never felt quite comfortable there, for whatever reason,” said Kyle Busch, his former teammate at Gibbs and the third-place finisher Monday. “Sure found a home at Penske. Those guys are really good over there.”
Logano had three brushes with victories before Fort Worth. He was fourth at Phoenix, fourth at Las Vegas and fourth at Martinsville.
He clearly has had fast cars. He is the only driver to make it to the final round of qualifying in every race.
“It’s frustrating when you have winning cars and you didn’t capitalize on it,” he said. “On the flip side of that, you got winning cars. It’s a lot better to struggle than finish 10th, so I’m proud of that. You’re able to ride that momentum of having fast race cars at every race track.”
Logano is a relaxed racer right now. He has a spot in the Chase, pending future results. He is secure at Penske. He is fast.
“All these tracks, we’ve been in contention, been up there,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of that. I’m glad to drive this race car, and this team has been doing a great job. I tell you, they’ve been giving me what I need to go out there and win these things.
“You never know when it will end, of having great race cars. When you have those opportunities like today, like we’ve had this year so far, you need to be able to capitalize on it.”
Something to talk about.