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A CLEAN SWEEP BY LOGANO
A few weeks ago, Team Penske driver Joey Logano won the first race of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup’s Contender Round to advance to the Eliminator Round.
Since the win at Charlotte, all he has done is just kept winning as he swept all three races in the round, adding a victory last week at Kansas and another Sunday at Talladega.
“I didn't think it was possible, I can tell you that much,” Logano said after the victory at Talladega. “At Chase time, everyone is bringing their ‘A’ game, everything they got, the best they can, not only with their race cars, but every driver is trying to find that extra little bit. Being able to click off three finishes here in the Contender Round, that's a statement. That's what we tried to do.”
The three consecutive victories even surprised team owner Roger Penske.
“I think if we sat down prior to this round and said somebody would win all three, they would have said you were crazy,” he said. “I think the execution of (crew chief) Todd (Graham) and Joey driving at the top of his game, I think today when you look at that last pit stop, that made the difference both in the 2 (teammate Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Logano) getting out in the lead, which was key. Moving on to the next round, it's going to be tough as we go into these next three races.”
While all of these victories showed the dominance of Logano in the Contender Round, it is all a memory now as the field is now reset with the start of the Eliminator Round beginning this weekend at Martinsville. Penske is well aware it will be a grind to stay at the top over the next few weeks.
“Our goal is to get to Homestead with the 2 and the 22,” said Penske, who has two of the eight drivers advancing to the Eliminator Round. “We had our best game on for the last three races. It proved it with the success we've had. We've been in this position before leading into a particular situation. We know how tough it is to stay on top.”
The recent wins, however, have helped boost Logano’s confidence as he heads into the three-race round that will determine which four drivers will vie for the series championship in the Nov. 22 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Our job is to win,” Logano said. “That's what Roger Penske expects from us. He expects excellence. He expects us to win a lot of races. I want to produce. We're in a performance business. If there's a trophy, we're supposed to get it. That's our job. Just need to be able to do that.”
The eight-driver Eliminator Round field is reset to even and advancing to this round with Logano are Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick. A victory at any of the Eliminator Round races – Martinsville, the Nov. 8 AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway or Nov. 15 at Phoenix – will earn the contender an automatic berth in the final four at Homestead.
"We have to keep this dream rolling," Logano said. "We have a long way to go. We are back to zero going to Martinsville, so we need to make something happen in the next three races."
A few weeks ago, it was Logano holding off Harvick for the win at New Hampshire in the opening Challenger Round. This race, he had to fend off Dale Earnhardt Jr., who led a race-high 61 laps, to earn the victory.
“I think as far as the last restart, what concerned me racing the 88 (Earnhardt Jr.), obviously he was very fast, like I said,” Logano said. “He had a very fast race car. Could we have held him off? Of course. We did earlier in the race. We were fighting him hard. Would it have been easy? No. It was going to be very challenging. We were racing against the best speedway racer that we know, right? He's won a ton of these speedway races. I look at him as one of the lead speedway racers. To race against him for a win was not going to be easy. But to come out with a checkered flag meant a lot.”
Earnhardt Jr. needed the win to advance and he and his team will now shift to other goals as the season comes to a close.
“The best thing that could happen for us is the same thing that happened last year, go win,” Earnhardt Jr. said postrace. “We're disappointed today. We were disappointed last year when we left Talladega. But we went to Martinsville and sort of surprised ourselves with our first win there. If we can go to the race track and win, it certainly makes our situation much more bearable.”
Texas Motor Speedway and the AAA Texas 500 is the middle stop of the three races in the next round and Logano knows a win can help prepare his team for the last race of the year.
"If you can get through Texas, it sets you up for Homestead,” he said. “By winning there you can focus and prepare for that last race of the year. That is what makes Texas is so important. Being able to win there and then focus on that last race is a huge advantage for any team."