DARLINGTON, S.C. — As the Cup playoffs begin, Kyle Busch, viewed as one of the most polarizing figures in NASCAR, has been described lately as “charming,” leaving a void for the series’ most outspoken driver.
Never fear, Joey Logano is here.
The 2018 Cup champion who seeks his fifth appearance in the title race, is comfortable telling it like he feels. Whether you agree with him doesn’t matter. Appreciate the forthrightness.
Logano enters the playoffs behind only Chase Elliott in the standings, making Logano among the favorites.
But he sees it a little differently.
“I told my team (Wednesday) we’re the favorites,” Logano said during NASCAR’s playoff media day on Thursday. “I gave reasons for it. So I don’t feel like it’s something made up in our mind. You have to race with confidence. I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t right now.”
Logano has that confidence based on the last three races in the regular season. He won a stage in each event and scored the most points in those three races combined (136).
And the playoffs open at Darlington Raceway with Sunday’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on USA Network). Logano won the pole, won a stage, led a race-high 107 laps and won at Darlington in May after bumping William Byron out of the way in the final laps. The bump came in response to contact from Byron late in the event.
Logano followed that by winning the pole for Sunday’s race. Byron starts third, putting him in the row behind Logano.
Asked if there needs to be a discussion with Byron, Logano was matter of fact on Saturday.
“I don’t think there really needs to be a discussion,” he said. “I thought everything that went down here in the spring was done and over with. It’s tit-for-tat, one for the other.
“I said it before, I’ll say it again – you don’t want to mess with me because I’m not gonna get pushed around. I’ve done that plenty in my career and it doesn’t work like that for me anymore, so I think it’s for everyone’s best interests that we just focus on racing in the playoffs and trying to win championships.
“He’s got a great car. He’s a good driver. He’s capable of being up there the whole time, too, so I think that it’s best for probably both of us to move forward and go racing. The score is equal in my mind.”
Logano made it clear that he’s not being cocky.
“I don’t know if cocky is the right word, but confident is something that I think is so important going into the playoffs when the pressure is on,” he said. “I need to feel like I’m the best, and I need to have reason to feel that way as well.”
A potential win Sunday not only would move Logano to the second round but also could send a message to his competitors.
“It sends a statement that you’re coming out of the gates swinging, but 10 weeks is also a long time,” Logano said. “A lot of things happen throughout the next 10 weeks, so you just have to be (at) that ultra-level of intensity and performance. … That’s a long time, but there’s no reason why we can’t do it. We’ve done it plenty of times before.”