Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Penske Racing Ford, is down to his final two racetrack spins of the regular season. And the odds may be more stacked against him making the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup playoffs than your winning the latest Powerball drawing.
Logano’s struggle to qualify for the playoffs is arguably the greatest shock of the NASCAR season, given that Logano made it all the way to the final round of Championship 4 drivers at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2014 and 2016.
Even though Logano won at Richmond Raceway in April, that victory doesn’t count toward playoff eligibility because his car failed inspection after the race.
Mathematically eliminated in terms of points, Logano is in a must-win situation to qualify for the playoffs with only a return to Richmond and Darlington Raceway left in the regular season.
Two weeks ago, Logano confessed at Michigan International Speedway to being desperate, but felt the final stretch of regular-season tracks was a good fit for his driving style.
Yet, at Bristol where he has won twice previously, Logano wrestled his way to a 13th place finish in Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, lacking corner entry stability and having to rebound from being a lap-down by utilizing the free-pass.
Since the Richmond penalty was announced, which included a loss of team points and crew chief suspension for two races, the momentum has been sucked out of the #22 team. In his last 14 NASCAR Cup races, Logano has led only 7 laps.
Back in February, Logano was on top of the world, as he, crew chief Todd Gordon, and sponsor Shell signed contract extensions running through 2023, delivering the team stability that Roger Penske craves.
Logano, saying it was a day he would never forget, proclaimed, “When a seven-year deal is thrown in front of you, obviously you jump on that opportunity to go out there and win championships together.”
So, will Logano be able to cash in on victory lane in either of the two remaining regular season races?
Richmond is the better bet of the two tracks, given Logano has won there twice (including the “encumbered” April win). His average finish of 8.9 over last 10 races is 2nd among active drivers.
Darlington, with its odd egg-shaped design and legend as the “track too tough to tame”, is a definite shortcoming in Logano’s repertoire. His average finish of 18.4 is 17th best among active drivers, including just two top-5’s in eight starts.
Logano maintains optimism, asserting “Every moment becomes more and more important on the racetrack, and that’s ok. That’s where you find out what you’re made of, so I’m all right with that.”
Logano is spot-on. The #22 team has had its back against the wall before and Team JL has delivered.
However, right now, the Penske Fords just haven’t been fast enough and appear off.
Penske’s two teams of Logano and Keselowski can crank a fast lap time in practice and qualifying, but they’re just not drivable in race conditions, either due to a shortfall of aero downforce or mechanical grip in race conditions.
Luck, of course, plays a big factor, and a shrewd pit call by master crew chief Todd Gordon could rescue the day at either track. But, time is now the enemy, and this perplexing season may leave Team JL with mixed emotions given its early season success, followed by its recent struggles.
By Ron Bottano
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