Joey Logano knows he needs to win another race during the regular season if he wants to make the 12-driver field for this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
With six races to go before the Chase begins, Logano sits fourth in the wild card standings. Kasey Kahne currently holds the first of two wild card positions by virtue of his two wins (Charlotte and New Hampshire). Kyle Busch, who is Logano's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, occupies the final spot with his one victory (Richmond) and 11th in the point rankings. Ryan Newman's victory at Martinsville and 14th in points has him third in the wild card battle right now.
Logano put himself in contention to qualify for the Chase when he won the June 10 race at Pocono Raceway. He held the third spot in the wild card standings and ranked 15th in points at the time. Logano's fourth-place finish last month at Daytona placed him 14th in points and allowed him to take over the second wild card position. But he has slipped since then, finishing 14th two weeks ago at New Hampshire and 33rd last Sunday at Indianapolis.
"If I can get another win, that's two wins," said Logano, who is now 17th in points. "If they (Busch and Newman) get another win and get two wins, I'll be out. The points do matter. But also the win is more important right now than anything.
"Obviously, points come with the win, so that would also help me move up. But if there's three people with two wins, which I think there's a good chance that could happen, you're going to have to be the guy that is up there with the points too."
The field for the Chase, which starts Sept. 16 at Chicagoland, consists of the top-10 drivers in points and the two wild cards, which go to drivers outside the top-10 with the most wins, as long as they are ranked in the top-20. If multiple drivers outside the top-10 tie for wins, the tie-breaker will go to the race winner with the highest points position.
Logano is hoping his next victory will come this weekend at Pocono, a racetrack where he has performed quite well lately. He has started on the pole in the last two races there. One year ago, Logano led the way when the race was stopped on lap 124 due to rain, but it resumed after a 1 hour, 40 minute delay. He ended up finishing 26th. Brad Keselowski won the event, even though he drove with a broken left ankle. Keselowski sustained the injury in a crash while testing at Road Atlanta days before the Pocono race.
Logano claimed his second career win in the Sprint Cup Series two months ago at Pocono. He made a bump and run on long-time veteran Mark Martin for the lead in the closing laps. Logano also set a new track qualifying record there. His lap of 179.598 mph on the newly repaved surface was 5 mph faster than the previous mark, set by Kasey Kahne in 2004. In fact, the top-36 drivers in qualifying surpassed the eight-year-old record.
"We go into Pocono with a lot of confidence after winning there earlier this year, with a really strong car that's fast in practice, qualified on the pole and won the race," Logano said. "When you have a car like that, if we are bringing back the same one, I guess we'll be going in with a lot of confidence to the weekend."
If Logano were to follow the same path as Keselowski did one year ago, he would make the Chase. Before the Aug. 2011 race at Pocono, Keselowski sat 21st in the standings (95 points behind then 10th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.). But the Penske Racing driver went on a tear during the month of August. He won at Pocono and Bristol as well as finished second at Watkins Glen, N.Y. and third at Michigan.
Keselowski ended last year's regular season 11th in points, but his three victories earned him the first wild card spot. He first win of the 2011 season came in the inaugural spring race at Kansas. Keselowski went on to finish the year fifth in points.
When the series raced on Pocono's new coat of asphalt earlier this year, NASCAR officials issued a whopping 22 penalties for driving too fast while entering or exiting pit road. Eighteen of them occurred within the first 70 laps of the 160-lap (400-mile) race. The pit road area at Pocono was lengthened during its repavement process. Therefore, the number of segments increased from 10 to 11, with the last section expanded from 56 feet to 83.
Keselowski received two of those penalties, which led to an 18th-place finish.
"I think everyone on the (No. 2 team) is anxious to get back to Pocono after our first race there this year," he said. "We had a good car, but different circumstances kept popping up that prevented us from getting a top-10 finish. It's definitely a different racetrack after the repave, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It's very fast and very smooth, but the new asphalt took away the outside groove in turn three. That was always an ideal place to pass. Even though it's not the same racetrack as last year, we are still going back as the defending winner of this event. That always provides a level of confidence for any team."
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Pennsylvania 400.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, August 5. Race: Pennsylvania 400. Site: Pocono Raceway. Track: 2.5-mile tri-oval. Start time: 1 p.m.(ET). Laps: 160. Miles: 400. 2011 Winner: Brad Keselowski. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.