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LOGANO READY TO BREAK OUT OF SHELL
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series hosts its 26th race and regular-season finale Saturday night at Richmond International Speedway and for all but 16 drivers the road to a championship will end.
One of the drivers heading to Richmond needing what amounts to a ninth-inning, walk-off home run is Team Penske’s Joey Logano. His only hope at this point of advancing into NASCAR’s playoffs is with a win.
The good news is that Logano already has proven he can win at Richmond. In April, he put his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane but the celebration didn’t last long. NASCAR found his team with violations egregious enough for it to deny Logano an automatic playoff berth that comes with the victory.
The infamous “encumbered victory” included a 25-point penalty and since that time the team has appeared a shell of what it has shown in previous seasons.
“These are the moments that are a true test of your character and who you are, the way you handle these situations, internally, in your team,” Logano said. “And it’s time to step up and be a leader. Is this the easiest time? No. I like to think of the team as the driver is the quarterback and the crew chief is the coach and we do it together. Neither one calls the plays by himself — at least on our team. We do this together. We’re in this together.”
Logano has finished in the top 10 in the championship standings the previous four seasons, including a career-best, runner-up effort last season.
The season has proven to be a struggle for a team looking for answers. The No. 22 Team Penke team that tallied 26 top-10 finishes last season has earned just 11 in the first 25 races and has finished 30th or worse five times.
Logano understands the pressure entering Richmond.
“You have two races to win — and you have to win,” Logano said prior to last weekend’s race at Darlington. “That same stress or pressure you feel when you’re in the playoffs has escalated over the past month and as the races approach.”
The team struggles have been well documented, but Logano knows things can change with a victory Saturday. Logano has good reason to remain confident, having earned two victories at Richmond in his career. He also is currently riding a streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at the short track.
“So we’re going through a little bit of a downturn right now,” Logano said. “It’s obvious. And it’s something as a team that maybe we haven’t gone through together but we’ve all gone through it individually before — and we’ve all, obviously, come out of it. These are the moments that, I’ve got to believe, that, God is training you for something bigger.”