CP MOTORSPORTS – MONTE DUTTON: MOMENTUM, FOR WHATEVER IT’S WORTH
The NASCAR season winds its way along, as it is bound to do, and this is a point where fans have as much difficulty as the drivers and teams "taking them one step at a time."
All eyes are on the Chase, even now. Who's going to make it? Who's not? Who's going to win it? The opinions vary week to week as everyone overreacts to the latest outcome.
For instance, Joey Logano just won the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International. He became the first driver to sweep both races in a single weekend at the Upstate New York road course. Back when the 25-year-old Logano won the Daytona 500, he found himself being proclaimed as a potential champion, and that sentiment is rising again, even though neither Daytona nor Watkins Glen, the sites of his two victories, is to be revisited in the Chase.
Thus does Logano seem more likely to win the Sprint Cup championship than last week and less likely than it seems right now. Such is the nature of fans and media and human nature. The most useful virtue is patience, and it is the one in shortest supply.
Logano has momentum, and momentum is overrated simply because it could not possibly be underrated. Logano has a decent chance at the title because his season is more impressive than the two victories that encapsulate it to this point. In 22 races, he's finished in the top five 13 times. That is title-worthy. He is second to Kevin Harvick -- who would be the focus of this column if he’d had enough ethanol in his tank to complete two more turns -- in the point standings, which, come Chase time, will be no more a factor in his hopes than a dill pickle in the flavor of a cheeseburger.
In his last five races, Logano has finished, in order, second, fourth, second, 20th and first. Only Kyle Busch has outperformed him over that period. Busch slipped past the powerless Harvick at the finish line to finish second on Sunday.
Logano thinks he's going to win it all, "... really from finishing second a lot lately, and now, to see the checkered flag without a car in front of me for once, it felt really, really good.”
Of course he does. It’s the way he’s supposed to feel.
"Team Penske, the last four races in a row one of our cars finished second (Brad Keselowski being his teammate)," Logano said. "It feels good to break through and not be a bridesmaid anymore and actually to get to have the checkered flag and have some fun. I think that was a little extra emotion at the end of the race. Good thing this is a long track (2.45 miles) because I was going crazy inside the car for about a lap afterwards. Pretty cool.
"Losing sucks a lot more than winning."
Really? Winning sucks a little? Who knew?
In some ways, Logano is still the highly talented kid, even after 241 starts in NASCAR's big leagues. His progress is in the heart and mind. He always had the tools. He's learned how to use them. He's learned to let his crew chief, Todd Gordon, make the calls, which is a simple, obvious lesson some drivers 10 years older have never managed to learn.
Does that make him the favorite? With this format, no one is the favorite. The segmented, gradually narrowing format of the Chase means that no one is going to be able to afford running out of gas during the Chase. The favorite may not make it past the first round in those final 10 races. Harvick won it last year, but the runner-up, Ryan Newman, didn't win a single race all year. Newman is probably going to make it again, whether he wins one of the final four regular-season races or not.
NASCAR ought to have one of those seals like colleges have, with a motto in Latin: It quid quid est.
It is what it is.