Is Logano this year’s playoffs dark horse?

Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Is Logano this year’s playoffs dark horse?

NASCAR

Is Logano this year’s playoffs dark horse?

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Joey Logano ended the regular season without much to write home about, but he’s going into the playoffs as confident as can be.

Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske team finished 22nd or worse in the last five races. Logano earned just two top-10 finishes in the previous eight races and went from sitting inside the top-five in the overall point standings to end the regular season eighth in points.

“Has it been a rough five weeks or six weeks? Yeah, you’re right,” Logano said. “But the speed is there, and so to me, having that speed means more than lucking into top-fives or having a 15th-place car and you had good strategy and a couple of good restarts and finished third. OK, that’s good, but that doesn’t last long.

“I feel like we’ve been top five every one of those races lately with a lot of speed — 550s, 750s, road courses. We’ve been a consistent top-five car speed-wise. So, I think of that. Our pit crew has done really well. I feel like we’re in championship form even though the stats don’t show that; I feel as confident as I would if we came into this with five straight top-fives and a few wins.”

Logano’s only win came on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. Logano led 324 laps in the first half of the regular season. But in the second half, Logano led 85 laps.

Little has gone right for Logano lately, but now the clock resets. John Harrelson/Motorsport Images

Two crashes in the recent weeks, Indianapolis and Michigan, resulted in DNFs. But Logano was running inside the top 10 at Indy, Michigan, and Daytona before trouble occurred. Logano was one of the drivers involved in the curb chaos at Indy, was spun by Martin Truex Jr. at Michigan, and cut a tire at Daytona. Logano led a race-high 37 laps in the finale at Daytona.

“I feel just as confident because it’s really what we feel — that’s what momentum and confidence are,” Logano said. “It’s not what anyone else thinks. You have to believe in yourself and in your team first, and I feel as good as I have ever felt going into the playoffs. Maybe with a little bit less stats because of what’s happened the last five or six weeks; some not of our doing, some is. But the speed is there.”

Logano starts the postseason at Darlington (Sunday, 6 p.m. ET, NBCSN) seeded ninth with 2013 points.

Of the three tracks in the first round, Logano has multiple wins at Richmond and Bristol. He has multiple wins at Las Vegas and Talladega in the Round of 12. The same goes for Kansas in the Round of 8, where Logano is the defending race winner, while he has one win at both Texas and Martinsville in that round. The championship race location, Phoenix, is where Logano has won twice before.

For as good as Logano feels, however, the favorites come from Hendrick Motorsports. There are some like one of Logano’s teammates, Brad Keselowski, believes Rick Hendrick could potentially have three if not all four of his drivers in the championship race. Logano isn’t letting that hype get to him.

“I don’t feel like that at all,” he said. “There’s been plenty of times where the fastest cars don’t make it there. Probably example A is [Kevin Harvick] last year — won a bunch of races and didn’t make the Championship 4. So, in my opinion, going into these playoffs, boy, you got so many things coming your way, whether your car is fast or not.

“We’ve seen the really fast cars make it and win; we’ve also seen them not make it. We’ve seen cars that were considered underdogs make it and win, and everything in between. So, I feel like it’s 10 weeks of a bit of an unknown. We’ve all fought all year to collect the playoff points that we have and the advantage that some have (or) don’t have, and those are all deserved.

“The playoffs just have a way of changing the landscape of sports. Period. Any sport. When you add that pressure, some rise to the occasion and some crumble, and that’s the best part about playoffs in any kind of sport.”

In his career, Logano has won 10 playoff races. That is second-most (to Kevin Harvick’s 16) of all drivers in this year’s postseason.

 

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