Logano turns the page to tomorrow’s Chase opener at Chicagoland

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Despite finishing second to Kyle Busch in today’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, it sounds as if Joey Logano nonetheless had a productive day in regards to picking up ideas for tomorrow’s Chase for the Sprint Cup curtain-raiser.

Logano, one of the 13 drivers in this year’s Chase, will start from the pole position for the GEICO 400, a race that he and his Penske Racing crew have pin-pointed for some time.

“[The Cup car] was really good [in practice] and I think we have a shot at winning the race tomorrow,” Logano said today at Chicagoland. “I learned some things today that can help. I was talking to [Cup crew chief] Todd [Gordon] out there with Jeremy Bullins together. We were all debriefing today to figure out what will help for tomorrow.

“We are working as one team here to figure out what we have to do to win this championship. This is one of those tracks we circled as one we can really capitalize on and so far, we are doing that. We just have to try to win this thing tomorrow.”

As he embarks on his first Chase, Logano is trying to block out the controversy of the last week – some of which involved him and Penske Racing, whom along with Front Row Motorsports, were put on probation until the end of the year.

Today, NASCAR held a closed-door meeting for its personnel in the Chicagoland garages to define what’s expected of drivers and teams going forward. Logano felt that the meeting was a necessary one and allows everyone to “turn the page now.”

“It is clarifying what we can and cannot do,” Logano said of the meeting. “We are all competitors trying to find an advantage where we can. Anytime you can clarify rules, it helps our sport I feel like throughout each time and throughout all of NASCAR.

“…I am glad we can put it all behind us now and look ahead into the Chase. It is going to be an awesome championship, because we have 13 cars that can win this thing. I don’t know who the favorite is going into this. There are a lot of guys that can win it. Hopefully, we are one of the favorites – I think we are.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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