Joey Logano knows he is in the most precarious of positions heading to the Chase elimination race at Talladega, tied for the eighth and final spot for advancing to the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
There are two clear strategies his Penske Racing team could employ.
The first is the relatively low-risk option: They could spend the entire race at the unpredictable superspeedway spying on Austin Dillon, who is even with him in points, and Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, who are also within striking distance, and ensure they get through on points.
The riskier option? Race to win, points be damned.
“That’s the way I race. I don’t know a different way,” said Logano, whose third-place finish behind Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards on Sunday at Kansas at least made the points route possible.
“I’m sure we’ll talk about it this week,” Logano added, “but I’m a racer.”
At least three Chase contenders don’t have the same dilemma. Harvick and Jimmie Johnson are already locked into the next round by virtue of their wins in the first two stops of the round, and Chase Elliott’s trouble for the second straight week left him in a must-win situation.
The other nine drivers are much like Logano, racing to win but keeping a wary eye on points.
“The big thing that swung everything around was Kevin winning. We would have been in pretty good shape if he had finished second,” Logano said. “It isn’t disappointing because we still should be proud of the effort we had, but it would have meant a lot if he finished second.”
That’s because Harvick had problems of his own in the round at Charlotte, which means even second place at Kansas would have put him squarely on the bubble heading to Talladega.
Logano should at least have some confidence heading to the volatile restrictor-plate track. After years of mostly terrible results, he won there to complete a sweep of the entire round last fall.
Meanwhile, Dillon was third there earlier this year, Hamlin won there a couple of years ago and Keselowski won for the fourth time there earlier this year.
“I don’t think it’s a must-win situation,” said Keselowski, who spun into the grass and tore up his car before finishing 38th at Kansas. “I’m not worried about it. I’m going to go there and bust my butt to try to win, but I don’t think it’s a must-win yet.”
Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Edwards and Kurt Busch are relatively safe after steering clear of major trouble the last two rounds, and Martin Truex Jr. has a 13-point cushion over eighth place.
For each of them, winning at Talladega would be great. But they also know that simply by staying out of trouble, their spot in the next round is virtually assured.
“It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport and to a huge extreme with the Chase now with this format,” Truex said. “You’ve got to perform every single week. You’ve got a bad week, it could ruin your whole season. … We’ve just got to go to Talladega and hope that nothing crazy happens.”
MAKE YOUR PICK
NASCAR could take steps soon to limit Sprint Cup driver participation in lower series, a point driven home after Kyle Busch won his ninth Xfinity Series race of the year at Kansas. NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell was asked about the dominance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week and said something could change in the rules by next year.
“We’ve heard the fans. It’s interesting, it’s been a balance throughout the years,” he said. “We have always had Sprint Cup drivers come into the Xfinity Series and sometimes dominate.
“As the sport has evolved, one of the great things is we’ve got more of a fan following in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. They like seeing those drivers come up through the ranks and it’s our job to make sure that Xfinity is where names are made.”
NASCAR is already prohibiting any Sprint Cup driver who was in last year’s Chase from competing in this year’s season finale for the Xfinity and Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Of the 30 Xfinity races this season, 19 have been won by Sprint Cup regulars.
TAKING A BREAK
The Xfinity Series is on a two-week break after Kyle Busch trumped the eight Chase contenders at Kansas on Saturday. Justin Allgaier plans to do some endurance racing in Brazil, and Daniel Suarez will squeeze in a trip to Mexico before racing trucks at Martinsville.
“It’s been a while since the last time I went to Mexico to visit my family, my mom, my sisters and my dad,” he said. “We’re going to do something fun with the people from NASCAR.”
SKIPPING THE SUN
Truex’s team decided not to take part in this week’s testing at Homestead, even though it’s the site of the season-ending race next month. One reason is that it’s far from Denver, where his Furniture Row Racing team is based, and another is that he isn’t convinced it does any good.
“Every time we’ve tested this year, we’ve gone to the race track and spent the first day-and-a-half trying to regroup,” he said. “It seems like it’s probably hurt us more than helped us.”
HAAS F1 DECISIONS
Formula 1 team owner Gene Haas said Sunday that he wants to see how Esteban Gutierrez fares the rest of the season before deciding on a second driver for his team. Romain Grosjean has been solid in the team’s debut, and his spot for next year is secure. But while Gutierrez has been improving in recent races, he still has not earned a championship point.
“We haven’t definitively said whether Esteban is the driver for next year or not,” said Haas, whose Sprint Cup team won at Kansas. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be, either.”