Joey Logano thought he was going to be in the playoffs after winning at Richmond in April.
Three days later, his guaranteed playoff berth was no more after NASCAR announced that his car had failed post-race inspection. But that was OK. Logano was going to win another race or three and easily make the playoffs.
Fast-forward to now. Since that win at Richmond, Logano’s team has struggled. He hasn’t visited victory lane and isn’t even within sniffing distance of making the playoffs on points. He has to win Saturday night’s regular-season finale at the three-quarter mile track if he wants to be in NASCAR’s playoffs.
“We are in a do-or-die situation,” Logano said. “Anytime you can win a race in that situation, there is no better feeling than that. Also returning here after our win in the spring and obviously the drama that followed, it would be very nice to be able to get back in victory lane and prove a point.”
Logano’s Richmond win was “encumbered” by NASCAR. While he’s officially listed as the winner of the race — and will continue to be until the end of time — the post-race inspection failure means he couldn’t use the win to qualify for NASCAR’s win-and-in playoff format.
The win was his eighth top-six finish in the first nine races of the season. In the 16 races that have followed, Logano has two top-six finishes.
He’s said before that whatever NASCAR found in the rear of his car is not the reason for the team’s struggles after his Richmond win. But when you look at Logano’s numbers on the surface, it’s hard to entirely dismiss the impact of the penalty on the team’s performance.
But it’s also hard to dismiss the location of Saturday night’s race too. Given the team’s lack of speed over the summer, Richmond is probably the best location for Logano to make the playoffs. Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski finished second in the spring race and his car passed post-race inspection.
“Richmond is one of those places where we can carry some speed,” Logano said. “I was watching the spring race on the way up here. We had a good car. Brad had a really fast car and we battled up front for the win and finished 1-2. That wasn’t that long ago. This is a short track which seems to kind of mask some of the challenges we have had with our cars. When I look at those things I feel confident that this is a race track that if we do everything right, it won’t be easy by any means, but if we do everything right we can squeak one out.”
If he doesn’t win Saturday night, Logano will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012, his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. He finished 17th that season. If he’s not a part of the playoffs, 17th will be as good as he can do in the points standings in 2017.
“The last weekend that doesn’t have any stress or pressure before you have 10 weeks of hell,” Logano said of how the team has viewed the regular-season finale over the past four seasons. “That is what we used to look at it as. Now that pressure has been on us for a long period of time. Over the last few months really. I am trying to get through this little slump we are in. Are we bitter about what happened? It happened. We are in the past. That is in the past. We have to keep looking out the windshield.”
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