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Logano loses pole after practice crash

17 November 2012

Joey Logano has lost his hard-won pole position for Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series finale race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, after a three-car accident also involving Denny Hamlin and Greg Biffle forced all three drivers to their back-up cars for the remainder of the weekend.

Even after they'd compared notes back in the garage area, even the drivers involved seemed not to be quite sure what had happened, and the incident appeared to be one of miscommunication and misunderstanding.

"From what I gathered from that conversation he didn't think we were three-wide," said Biffle after his discussion with Hamlin. "But I also don't know if we were three-wide."

The incident appeared to be triggered as the Joe Gibbs Racing pair of Logano and Hamlin closed up on the back of the slower Biffle into turn 4. Hamlin took the low line to pass the #16, while Logano went high. Biffle's spotter was quick to warn him of the polesitter's approach and told Biffle to make sure he left enough room, but Logano realised the danger and backed off instead.

Unaware of this, Biffle maintained his mid-line rather than drifting up the track as he normally would out of turn 4: "My spotter told me to leave the #20 room because the #20 had a run, I wasn't gonna come up in front of him."

But that wrong-footed Hamlin, who couldn't see why Biffle was staying so low out of the turn when as far as he could see there was nothing on the outside. The #11 slipped up out of the low groove and impacted the #16; and then Logano ended up running into the wreck that he'd backed off to ensure that he avoided.

"I don't think that [Hamlin] thought we were three-wide, he thought we were two-wide,| confirmed Biffle after his chat Hamlin. "Ultimately, we may not have been three-wide at that particular time ... Whether he was there or not, maybe the 20 said, 'I've had enough. You're three-wide, this is practice.' I don't know.”

Biffle agreed that he and Hamlin might have been pushing too hard for a practice session: "Yeah, we were running a little hard, probably. I don't know." Biffle will lose his 13th place on the grid as a result of the mishap.

For Hamlin, it was yet another rotten day at the race track. Set-up problems saw him struggle in qualifying, and even before the practice crash sent him to the back of the grid for the start of Sunday's race he'd been due to start from 41st place.

"This is NOT the way a birthday and NASCAR [season finale] is supposed to start!!!!" he posted on Twitter afterwards. He also told reporters, "What are you going to do? ... I can't bitch about it, it's over. Everyone has got a backup car. We'll make it up."

The #11 was wrecked and Hamlin couldn't even drive back to the garage, but instead had to be ferried back to pit road by ambulance. Biffle was able to drive his car back, but there was no chance of it being repairable in time for Sunday afternoon.

Logano got off relatively lightly, but the front end of the car was still visibly crumpled with significant structural and engine damage likely, forcing the polesitter to follow Biffle and Hamlin to the backup car - and to the back of the grid.

"I was innocent bystander once again, and they drove into us," sighed Logano, calling the incident a "bummer" as he prepares for his final race with Joe Gibbs Racing before his move to Penske Racing in 2013.

Logano will still be listed in pole position and will line up at the head of pit road, but will then drop to the back of the field before the green flag. That means that the line of cars behind him will all effectively move up one row in time for the start of the race.

The polesitter normally gets a choice of whether then line up on the inside line (at the head of the odd-numbered positions) or the outside (in front of the even-numbered positions) and at the time of the accident Logano hadn't yet made his decision as to which line he would take, saying that he planned to wait and see how Saturday afternoon's Nationwide Series race went before selecting.

In the aftermath of the crash, Logano indicated that he would now choose to the inside line - which means that once he drops to the back of the field, the car in third place would move up to the front row alongside Marcos Ambrose. He made that choice because the car in third is Sprint Cup Chase leader Brad Keselowski, who will be Logano's team mate at Penske Racing in 2013.

However, NASCAR took the call out of Logano's hands by exercising their discretion in the circumstances to set the front row starting positions - and confirmed that Logano would be ordered to line up on the inside, confirming that Keselowski will now inherit a front row start for the championship-deciding season finale event.

Because the even-numbered cars lined up behind Ambrose do not move up as a result of the incident, the starting position of Keselowski's rival for the 2012 title is unchanged. Jimmie Johnson will continue to line up in tenth place on the grid, and now find himself effectively nine places behind at the start of a race where he must overhaul Keselowski by at least 20 points if he is to win his sixth championship.

"He's smiling for sure," said Hamlin of how Keselowski would be taking the news. "From what I've seen so far this weekend, I just don't think the #48 has the speed to run with those guys anyway. I think they're going to have to rely on something catastrophic happening to the #2."


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