Joey Logano looks ahead to Martinsville, not behind

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Joey Logano is focused on what’s ahead this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, but car owner Roger Penske can’t help but look back at this race a year ago.

Penske sees how strong Logano’s car was and how his driver was in position to win and earn a spot in the championship round until Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in retaliation for an incident a few weeks earlier at Kansas.

“I hope we can (return) where we left off, not against the wall, but leading the race,’’ Penske told NBC Sports after Logano’s victory last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Logano has moved on from that race.

“We just want to go there and win,’’ he told NBC Sports. “I don’t really focus on what happened last year or think about it or anything like that.

“It would be really cool to win at Martinsville. We’ve never won there.’’

What Logano has won there is the pole three consecutive years, tying what Jeff Gordon (2003-04), Mark Martin (1990-91), Darrell Waltrip (1979-80) and Glen Wood (1959-60) have done.

The pole didn’t prove too helpful in the spring race, though, as Logano struggled with the car’s handling and was lapped within the first 80 circuits. Logano recovered to finish 11th on the lead lap.

Logano led 207 laps in this race a year ago. That was before Kenseth, also upset about an earlier incident with Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, issued his payback. 

MARTINSVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 01: The #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford of Joey Logano is towed into the garage after an incident with Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway on November 1, 2015 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
Joey Logano’s car is towed into the garage after an incident with Matt Kenseth during last fall’s Chase race at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

Logano finished 37th and could not recover from the points deficit in the next two races and failed to advance to the championship round. It is the only time Logano has been eliminated since this format debuted in 2014.

Logano says that competing for the title in 2014 at Homestead has helped him excel in the playoffs.

“The Chase, there’s a lot of pressure but I’ve found a way to be excited about it,’’ he said. “I love this part of the season. I really enjoy it, can’t wait for it all year.

“Going through Homestead a couple of years ago, I learned a lot about myself. I think our race team learned a lot about themselves, individually, kind of handling that pressure.’’

Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon both say what gives Martinsville added importance is that a win there gives a team two extra weeks to prepare for the season finale in Miami instead of focusing so much on races at Texas and Phoenix before the field of eight title contenders is cut to four.

The Chase field includes all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth — along with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon isn’t worried about competing against all four Gibbs cars.

“It’s one vs. 39 every weekend,’’ he told NBC Sports. “Yes, they have four opportunities, but if we want to win a championship, we’ve got to beat everybody and that means all four of their guys. I don’t see it as a negative for us.’’

Should Logano make it to Miami, he could help Penske achieve something he’s never done before — win the IndyCar and NASCAR Sprint Cup titles in the same year.

“This being our 50th year and you go back and you think back to all the great results and the great people and the great drivers and then to finish 1-2-3 in the IndyCar championship, obviously, is something very special,’’ Penske said. “In the back of your mind, you keep thinking, ‘I wonder if I can get the Cup job done again in 2016?’ Believe me it’s on our minds, but we’ve got to earn it, we’ve got to race for it, no one is going to give it to us. That would make this year real special.’’

Former champions battling to stay alive in Cup playoffs

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Title hopes could end today for more than one series champion.

Former champ Jimmie Johnson holds that final transfer spot to the next round, but he leads former champion Kyle Busch by seven points and former champion Matt Kenseth by eight points.

“This is our first Homestead of this year,’’ Busch said, referring to the season finale that determines the crown. “We’ve got to come through this race. It’s not a must-win, but it is a must-perform.’’

It will be challenging because Busch, Johnson and Kenseth are all strong at this track.

Johnson’s three wins at Kansas are the most among active drivers. Busch has finished in the top five in five consecutive Kansas races. Kenseth has led 269 of the 536 laps (50.2 percent) run in this event the past two years.

That makes Sunday’s elimination race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) even more intriguing.

Johnson, who is in his first bid to break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most Cup championships, finds himself in this spot because of a lack of speed. It’s hurt him in qualifying, costing him stage points, and hurt him throughout the race.

“We are a team and a group that thrives on adversity,’’ said Johnson, who noted he was the slowest of the championship cars last year in Miami and still won his record-tying seventh title.

“Whenever we have been backed into a corner we have always stepped up and have delivered. All the members of this No. 48 team love a challenge, and we are not even close to losing that desire and that fight to be out there and compete and race for the win and race for the championship.’’

Mistakes have plagued the team the past two weeks. At Charlotte, Johnson took off before all the lug nuts were secured on the left front tire and had to back up to have that remedied, losing time. Last week, spotter Earl Barban told the team they could begin work on Johnson’s wrecked car before the red flag was withdrawn. NASCAR parked the team for the infraction.

“There are lessons learned in everything,’’ Johnson said. “When I think of the Charlotte pit stop itself and I think of Talladega and the mistake there that Earl made, really all mistakes come from guys trying as hard as they can. 

“I personally have sympathy for that. I mean, the guys are just trying to do the best job they can and everybody makes mistakes. I make plenty of them, and I think Fridays show that on a regular basis. It’s hard for me to jump on somebody over that.  What I ask of myself is to learn from those lessons and try not to repeat them.’’

Kenseth, winless in his last 48 starts, has a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota but his team has seemed to be the weakest of JGR’s playoff teams throughout the postseason.

“If we don’t run good Sunday, then we don’t deserve to be in the next round anyway,’’ Kenseth said Friday.

Kenseth lamented the performance he and his team had at Kansas in May, finishing 12th.

“You’re only as good as your last race,’’ he said. “Our last one here we ran really, really bad.

Kenseth suggests he might have to knock someone else out of a playoff spot if Kyle Busch runs like he’s capable.

“If I’m Kyle (Busch), I’m feeling pretty good,’’ Kenseth said of his teammate. “He’s crashed two weeks in a row and he’s still in (playoff contention). That’s pretty amazing. Plus he’s been running so good, it’s one of his better places now. So I wouldn’t be very concerned if I was Kyle, I guess, because he’s had the performance.

“Now, (Jimmie Johnson) hasn’t run quite as good as he’s accustomed to running. We haven’t run as good as we’re accustomed to running.”

That Busch is so close after a miserable round (29th at Charlotte and 27th at Talladega) is because he has so many more playoff and stage points than Johnson and Kenseth.

Busch has 41 playoff points. Johnson has 17 and Kenseth five.

Busch’s job is simple he says.

“I look at it as out-finishing (Johnson) and (Blaney) by three, four spots each stage, each round, in order to make up enough points to pass them both,’’ he said. “Whether that’s doable or not, we’ll see. We’ll certainly try. We’ll fight hard, hopefully run up front all day long. We’ve done that this year. We did that here in the spring. We just need to back it up and do it again when it’s crunch time.”

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Justin Allgaier leads Xfinity playoff standings after first race of second round

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Justin Allgaier and two of his JR Motorsports teammates lead the Xfinity playoff standings after the first second round race, the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.

Allgaier holds a two-point lead over William Byron and a 11-point lead over Elliott Sadler after finishing fifth in the race.

The top five is completed by Brennan Poole (-28) and Matt Tifft (-33).

Only four of the remaining eight drivers will advance to the championship race.

Click here for the point standings.

Stats, results for Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway

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Christopher Bell claimed his first Xfinity Series win in the Kansas Lottery 300 after passing his teammate, Erik Jones, with four laps left in the race at Kansas Speedway.

Bell only led the final four laps after Jones led 186.

Completing the top five was Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for results.

 

Christopher Bell wins first career Xfinity Series race at Kansas

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Christopher Bell passed teammate Erik Jones for the lead with four laps left in the Kansas Lottery 300, withstood contact from behind by Jones and claimed his first career Xfinity Series win.

Bell, driving the No. 18 Toyota, won in his fifth career start. It comes in the opening race of the second round of the playoffs.

Bell passed Jones in Turn 3 and drifted up to the wall as they exited Turn 4, where Jones then ran into him.

“I haven’t seen it so I can’t really talk much about it,” Bell told NBC. “But I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate. I don’t know. My spotter said clear, I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him (watches replay). I don’t know man, I was clear. It’s my first Xfinity win. I’m sorry that Erik couldn’t finish the race. But I’m just stoked. This thing was awesome.”

Jones dominated the race until the pass by Bell. Jones led 186 of 200 laps and swept the first two stages. He finished 15th, one lap down due to damage from running into the back of Bell.

“It’s not dirt racing, he (wasn’t) clear,” Jones told NBC. “I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so far he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane. It’s unfortunate. … I thought we were going to race for the win. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a race. It was more of a wreck.”

Jones has not finished better than 15th in his last four Xfinity starts.

It is the first win for Joe Gibbs Racing since Denny Hamlin won at Darlington Raceway, a five-race stretch. JGR has won 11 Xfinity races this season.

Bell, 22, is a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series. He will race full-time for JGR in the Xfinity Series next year.

The top five was Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Justin Allgaier.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Erik Jones

STAGE 2 WINNER: Erik Jones

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Elliott Sadler finished seventh after bouncing back from a spin in Turn 4 on Lap 77 and a pit penalty … Tyler Reddick gave the No. 42 Chevrolet its fourth top-two finish in the last five races … William Byron finished fourth and Matt Tifft placed eighth after both had to start from the rear for unapproved adjustments.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Daniel Hemric finished 18th, a lap down after receiving a penalty for pitting outside his box … Blake Koch finished 23rd, four laps down after getting into the wall with about 35 laps to go … Cole Custer finished 19th, two laps down after pitting for a bad tire with less than five laps to go.

NOTABLE: The 186 laps led by Erik Jones are his most in 75 career Xfinity starts … The cars of Matt Tifft and Ryan Blaney each had one unsecured lug nut after the race. Any penalties will be announced later in the week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I just don’t think that’s the way to do it. I get that (Christopher Bell) was clear. He wasn’t clear for the run I was having on the top. I was in the gas. There was no way I could slow up enough to let him. It’s just unfortunate. It took me out of the race. … I just don’t really appreciate that. I don’t think many people will.’’ – Erik Jones

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 4 on NBCSN