Joey Logano’s streak could lead him to title race


A theory about these Cup playoffs is that Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are headed to the championship race in Phoenix because of all the playoff points they’ve earned.

That would leave the remaining 14 playoff drivers contending for the final two spots in the championship race.

It might be 13 drivers battling for the final spot in that title event.

In a season of streaks — ranging from Martin Truex Jr.’s million-to-one shot of third-place finishes, Kyle Busch’s winless streak and Harvick’s career-high streak of nine consecutive top fives — one streak could help set the title field.

In every even-numbered year since the current playoff format debuted in 2014, Joey Logano has made it to the championship race. His title came in 2018.

He admits this year has a similar feeling to that season as he prepares for Sunday’s playoff opener at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“We need to continue to slowly build and become stronger as a team,” said Logano, who enters the playoffs fourth in the standings. “You’re not going to find one thing that’s going to be a light switch that’s going to put us all the way to where (Harvick and Hamlin) are, but we’re not far off. 

“We’re two or three little things away from that and this year is just reminding me of 2018, which is a great season for me, where we had some growing pains and some things we had to learn throughout the regular season. We slowly built the speed back up for the playoffs. The next thing you know we won two of the most important races, and we win the championship. 

“It just has that feeling to me throughout the regular season, so I feel like for those reasons I’m as confident as anybody rolling into this thing in our race team and myself because we’ve been here before. We’ve done this before, so we’re ready to rock.”

Should Logano be among the four racing for the title in the Nov. 8 season finale in Phoenix, he’d enter as the track’s most recent winner.

Logano won there in March, the final race before the novel coronavirus pandemic suspended the season for 10 weeks. That victory also is Logano’s most recent this season.

“It feels like a long time ago,” he said. “Way too long. We’re ready to win again, but I do feel like we’re getting close back to that same point as we were. To me, there’s no doubt when we went back racing we weren’t where we wanted to be. 

“I even said it a few times, almost like a lost puppy not knowing what road to go down to get back to where we need to be. It’s hard to find that direction without practice. Going to a different racetrack every week it’s hard to grow. It took longer than we wanted it to, longer than we expected it to, but I feel like we’re getting really close back to where we were at the beginning of the year. We can get ourselves in position to win again, and I feel like we’re right at it.”

One of the challenges for Logano is he started the season with a new crew chief, Paul Wolfe. Team Penske switched its driver/crew chief lineup before the season. The crew members followed their crew chief to the new team, so everyone was new for Logano.

With interaction limited primarily to Zooms and brief sessions at the track since the season resumed in May, Logano says it has challenged him in leading the team.

“I want to be the leader with Paul, but my hands are tied,” Logano said. “There’s only so much we can do. Penske has done a good job at trying to keep everyone separated to where if there was an outbreak it didn’t shut down the whole (operation). 

“In general, we’re trying to be as smart as we can. It’s hard to throw everyone up on a Zoom call and speak directly to somebody. It’s been a little harder for me this year, too, because it’s a new team. I’m typically the guy that’s in the garage until the garage closes. The way I led was by being present and building relationships. 

“It’s been a little harder to do that this year, for sure, but we have to find unique ways of trying to gather the team together and rally the troops.”

Playoff standings 

2057 – Kevin Harvick

2047 – Denny Hamlin

2029 – Brad Keselowski

2022 – Joey Logano

2020 – Chase Elliott

2014 – Martin Truex Jr.

2013 – Ryan Blaney

2009 – Alex Bowman

2007  – William Byron

2005 – Austin Dillon

2005 – Cole Custer

2005 – Aric Almirola

2004 – Clint Bowyer

2003 –  Kurt Busch

2001 – Kyle Busch

2000 – Matt DiBenedetto