The Inside Line: Logano the next to join Chase party

Philadelphia, PA ( - After winning Monday's rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway, Joey Logano is already looking ahead to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Logano kept the streak of different winners to start the season alive -- seven races, seven winners. He also joined his Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a spot in the Chase.

This year, NASCAR has expanded the field of drivers/teams in the Chase from 12 to 16. The top-15 drivers with the most wins during the 26-race regular season will become eligible for the playoffs, provided they have finished in the top 30 in points. The 16th and final position will go to the driver who is the highest in points without a victory.

There are 19 races remaining before the regular season concludes on Sept. 6 at Richmond.

"Obviously these wins are so important this year to get into the Chase," Logano said. "To have both Team Penske cars with a win already, both of us up there in points, we feel good about that. You can kind of start getting your ducks in a row for Chase time, making sure you get everything ready for then.

"You're not playing on the backside of your foot, trying to win a race a couple races before Richmond. You feel a little bit more comfortable now than what we would have been."

The current streak of different race winners is the longest to begin a season since 2003, when there were nine different winners in the first nine races. The record is 10, set in 2000. NASCAR began its playoff format for the Cup Series in 2004.

Despite leading a race-high 108 laps at Texas, Logano had to pass Jeff Gordon for the lead on the final lap to capture the victory -- his fourth career in NASCAR's top series.

Logano held a two-second lead over Keselowski in the closing laps when the caution flag waved for debris that came from Kurt Busch's car after he made contact with the wall. The leaders pitted during the caution, with Gordon taking just two right-side tires and exiting the pits in first. Logano and Keselowski made a four-tire stop and came out third and fourth, respectively. But Keselowski was penalized for speeding off pit road, which cost him a shot at the win.

After the final restart, Gordon held off Logano at the line to lead the penultimate lap, but Logano pulled ahead of Gordon heading into turn 1 and then went on to beat him at the finish by a half-second.

"I didn't want to put (Logano) out there with a situation where he didn't have a left rear to drive off of turn 2," Todd Gordon, Logano's crew chief, said. "I feel like you give your driver the best opportunity to capitalize. Joey is really good at capitalizing on restarts. He's one of the best. I don't know that I can put anybody beyond him. I didn't want to handicap him with where he's the most talented."

Logano is in his second year as driver of the No. 22 Ford for Roger Penske's team. The Middletown, Conn., native made the Chase for the first time in 2013, finishing eighth in points. He had finished no better than 16th in the standings during his first four years in Cup competition (2009-12) while driving the No. 20 car for Joe Gibbs Racing.

At 23, Logano has emerged as a strong title contender this year. He is presently fourth in points. Logano had finished fourth at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Martinsville prior to his win at Texas. He's also performed very well in qualifying, making it into the final round in each of the first six "knockout- style" qualifying sessions this season.

"I'm here to win," he said. "I feel like the competitors see that now. We run up front enough that they don't look at you as a guy that's going to run up there once in every 10 races. It's every week now. It's a lot of hard work to keep that going."

The next Sprint Cup race is on Saturday night at Darlington. It wouldn't be a surprise if we have another different winner this season there. Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending series champion, and Matt Kenseth, who finished second in points last year, have yet to win in 2014. Kenseth had seven victories compared to six for Johnson this past season.

Kenseth is the defending race winner at Darlington, and Johnson scored the victory there in 2012. Gordon, who is now the points leader, has the most wins among active drivers at Darlington with seven.

"The pressure is always there to win," Gordon said. "Every race that goes by that there's a different winner, the pressure gets more intense. You just got to go look at that next opportunity and try to put yourself in that position to go win it.

"I'm real happy with the way our team's performing this year. Feel like we missed a couple opportunities. But we're also running really strong, and we're consistently running strong, I know that opportunity is going to come for us."

Original Document: 
Display Section: 

More Stories: