Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske group will be ready to defend their title when the playoffs arrive. But right now the focus is another championship and the points that go with it.
With five races to go, Logano leads the point standings and is in position to grab the regular season Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. Doing so would give him 15 additional playoff points going into the postseason. Logano, who hasn’t been lower than fifth in points all season, has had control of the standings for the last seven weeks.
“We’re still thinking about the playoffs, but we have to think about right now because that (points) bonus is pretty significant and we have to try and get that,” said Logano. “At this point, we’re still trying to collect as many points as possible. We’re trying to win as many races as possible because the way NASCAR has set up the system, you have to be good all the time. You can’t just, like we used to, win a race and say ‘We’re in!’ then focus on the playoffs and that’s it.
“Now, each race really can affect your playoff run.”
The advantage Logano has over second place Kyle Busch is slim — just six points. Busch leads the series in every statistical category: wins (four), top 10s (18), top fives (11), laps led (1,015), and average finish (7.2).
Logano started the year tied for the points lead with Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. He lost it after Atlanta, to Hamlin; then took it back after the third race in Las Vegas. Busch took the points lead the following week after winning at ISM Raceway and held onto the top spot until Kansas Speedway when it went back to Logano. Busch took it back a week later at Charlotte and held it until Michigan when Logano assumed control after winning his second race of the season.
Aside from Logano, Hamlin, and Busch, no other driver has led the standings this season. NASCAR awards playoff points to the drivers who finish in the top 10 in the regular season standings on a descending scale of 15, 10, eight, seven and so on.
Busch won the regular season championship last year. Asked if Kyle is vulnerable at any of the next five tracks, Logano said, “Of course. Everyone has weakness. It’s my job to find them and for me not to have any.
“It’s close,” Logano continued. “It’s quite the battle, so each week it’s been kind of crazy. We get done and it’s like gained two points, lost a couple points, gained four, lost three. The last 15 weeks or so has just been back and forth, back and forth.
“Last week we doubled our points lead: It went from three to six. It’s a tight battle. It’s definitely a scratching and clawing type of thing.”
Any playoff points a driver earns carries with him through the playoffs if they advance. Those points have proven to be valuable in the postseason the last few years.
Logano said he is used to tight playoff battles and believes this year will be no different. Being locked in with two victories, however, has him in a much better position than those trying to fight just to be a part of it.
“That’s not a fun place,” said Logano. “I’ve been there, and you don’t want to be there. They’re gonna be exhausted when the playoffs start after the battle that they’ve been through. So, yes, we want to get the 15 points and win the regular season part of it. We won the championship last year with hardly any playoff points. It doesn’t make it or break it for you, but it definitely gives you a nice cushion.”