Defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano is the one with the target on his back ahead of this weekend’s second elimination race of NASCAR’s playoffs.
The Hollywood Casino 400 (Sunday, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) will trim the title contenders from 12 down to eight. Logano sits on the cutline by 18 points.
Logano and the No. 22 Ford team finished 34th at Dover in the first race of the round. In the rain-delayed Monday race at Talladega, Logano took a heavily-damaged car across the finish line 11th. Having been involved in a crash on lap 108, Logano needed extensive repairs from his team and came back from a lap down.
“It’s what we needed to do,” Logano reflected.
But in addition to his overall race recovery, Logano also finished second in both stages. Those results went a long way in giving Logano the points that now separate him from the first driver on the outside looking in, Alex Bowman. He had entered Talladega tied for the final transfer spot.
“It helps,” said Logano. “Does it mean we’re in? Absolutely not. We’re far from it. We’re the last car in, so if any of those guys (below the cutline) wins, we’re the first one out, so we just got to be mindful of that because there’s still a lot of cars back there that have some speed that could possibly win.
“It’s not a very comfortable situation, but it’s better than where we were when we came in here. The way we control our destiny is go out there and win, and bring a fast car next week.”
Making the situation even more interesting is the identity of the driver sitting immediately ahead of Logano on the playoff grid, and the driver who forced him onto the cutline: teammate Brad Keselowski. Both will have to be aware of the other in Kansas. As Logano knows, if one of the four drivers below the cutline wins, he could be out. Alternatively, if he overtakes Keselowski in points, it will knock his teammate out.
Oh, the other Team Penske driver won at Talladega. Ryan Blaney is locked into the Round of 8 and by doing so, overtook Logano on the playoff grid. Had Blaney not won the race, Logano wouldn’t be on the cutline.
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Blaney won, and I’m glad a Team Penske car won, but anyone that’s behind you that wins hurts you as the 22 team,” said Logano. “But as Team Penske as a whole, that’s as good as it can get. We got the one locked in for the next round, and we got two of them that are in right now, but there’s a lot that could happen.”
Playoff standings after Talladega
Kyle Larson – Advanced
Ryan Blaney – Advanced
Denny Hamlin + 56
Martin Truex Jr. + 48
Kyle Busch + 41
Kevin Harvick +36
Brad Keselowski + 22
Joey Logano + 18
Alex Bowman – 18
Chase Elliott – 22
Clint Bowyer – 24
William Byron – 27