Joey Logano continued to build momentum Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he finished second to Kyle Busch in the AdvoCare 500. It was Logano’s sixth consecutive finish of eighth or better and his third consecutive top-five finish in what so far has been a career season.
More importantly, with one race left until the field is set for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Logano is in great shape to qualify for NASCAR’s playoff round for the first time. With his runner-up finish, Logano moved up two positions to eighth in points, and even if he falls out of the top 10 next week at Richmond — which is unlikely — he has a healthy 25-point lead over Martin Truex Jr., the current holder of the second wild-card spot.
As he has done in weeks past, Logano overcame adversity with his Penske Racing Ford to finish well at Atlanta. He pitted on Lap 101 with a vibration, which for much of the middle stages of the race put him off sequence with most of the lead-lap cars. And he had a couple of bad pit stops where he lost critical track position.
That said, his Shell-Pennzoil-sponsored No. 22 Ford was probably the class of the field, leading a race-high 78 of 325 laps. But three cautions in the final 37 laps didn’t help Logano’s cause, as his car took a few laps to come in.
“The only thing I would change about it is it being better the first six laps of a run,” said Logano. “After that, this thing was a rocket ship.”
Logano led heading into pit road on Lap 290, but came out third behind Busch and Ryan Newman. And that was essentially the race. Busch who hadn’t led all night, moved to the point for the first time and led the final 36 laps to score his fourth victory of the season.
“I just needed 30 laps of green flag (racing) to get all the way up there,” Logano said. “When there’s a restart after another restart and you don’t have a car that’s very good on the first five, six laps of a run, it didn’t give me the greatest opportunity there. But we were catching (Busch) the last few laps. Just needed five, six more laps to get them, maybe less.”
And although Logano is not yet locked into the Chase, if he makes it in, he can make some noise.
“I feel like with three straight top fives right now we have a really good shot at it,” Logano said when asked to asses his championship chances. “I think you can’t count us out right now. This team is super-strong, and it looks like we’re hitting our stride at the right time right here. As long as we get in, first, and then we’ll see what happens. … But, yeah, I do feel like right now we do have a shot at it, but one step at a time right now.”