Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pocono likely Logano's best chance to make Chase

Joey Logano can be counted as one of NASCAR's many good guys. He's easy to like. There's a laid back personality, that, as best as we can tell, doesn't get easily angered.
And just because he doesn't show that kind of emotion doesn't make him less of a driver. In fact, most of the time, it probably makes him a better driver. The one time he did show some emotion came at this week's venue, Pocono Raceway, just after the June 2010 race, after appearing set to finish fifth or sixth, he got booted into the wall by Kevin Harvick late in the race. An angry Logano tried to talk with Harvick immediately afterward only to be shielded from doing so by Harvick's crew members.
That led to Logano's famous statement about Harvick, "His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do."
It was the first emotional outburst we had seen from Logano, even though he had just turned 20 at the time and was in his first year of a full-time ride with Joe Gibbs Racing after Tony Stewart left to start his own team.
So, while Logano may have turned a bit from boy to man that day, this Sunday's race at 1 p.m. on ESPN may be his best chance to turn from Chase pretender to contender. Logano sits at 17th in the points standings, but he does have one victory this season, at Pocono in June. Coincidentally, this is also Logano's contract year, so if he were to make the Chase, that would certainly be in his favor, whether he re-signs with Gibbs, or goes elsewhere.
But for him to make the Chase as a wild-card, one of the two drivers outside the top 10 in points, but inside the top 20 with the most wins, he's going to need another victory. The final Chase qualifier at the moment is Kyle Busch with his one win and he sits 11th in points. Kasey Kahne is the top wild-card qualifier at the moment with two wins.
Logano's problem is he sits 44 points behind Busch. With just six races left in NASCAR's regular season, he's not likely to catch Busch on points alone. So, yes, Logano is going to need another win to make it into the Chase.
That his second career win came at Pocono this year is a good thing. That's because there have been plenty of times where history has repeated itself at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Since Pocono began hosting two races per season in 1982, there have been six drivers to complete the single season sweep. They are Bobby Allison in 1982, Bill Elliott in 1985, Tim Richmond in 1986, Bobby Labonte in 1999, Jimmie Johnson in 2004 and Denny Hamlin in 2006.
So, a repeat is not out of the question for Logano, even though his other official top finishes in six races at Pocono have been 11th and 13th. The fact that Labonte and Hamlin achieved the repeat while driving for Gibbs also can't be ignored.
Logano is 22, and he's certainly young enough to think there will be more chances for him to make the Chase should he not do it this season. But there has to be a first time for everything, and Logano's best chance to make his first Chase may very well depend on whether or not he wins Sunday.

Joey Logano  - Hopefully, you just read about this. He needs that repeat.
Jeff Gordon  - Much like Logano, he deseperately needs his first win of the season to have a shot at the Chase as he sits 24 points behind Busch. It helps that he has won five times at Pocono.
Denny Hamlin - He's got four wins here, one of those slam dunk picks for the Tricky Triangle.
Jimmie Johnson - OK, he's pretty much an every week pick at this point. He's got two wins at Pocono, too.
Carl Edwards - He was set up to run fast at Indy last week, only to be slowed by engine woes. He's won here twice before, and like Gordon, is in desperation mode to get his first win of the season. He sits 12th in points, six behind Busch, for that final Chase spot.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda - Brad Keselowski is one of the guys I wanted to pick here, but just ran out of choices. He ran well at Indy last week, which is often a good sign at Pocono. He also has a win at Pocono.

Here's a look at how last week's picks fared at Indianapolis.
Tony Stewart:.10th. He didn't have a good day at all, but rallied for this finish.
Jimmie Johnson. 1st. He's capable of winning any week anywhere. Looking like a future six-time champion.
Jeff Gordon. 5th. He was strong all day at Indy.
Kasey Kahne. 12th. Also did not have a good day, but rallied late for respectable finish.
Kevin Harvick. 13th. After a miserable day, where he was mostly outside the top 15, and often somewhere in the 20s, he managed a decent finish.
Here's a look at my results after 20 races and 100 picks.
11  wins
36 top fives
48 top 10s
Grade for the week: B-plus. Three of the top 10, including the winner. Someone else making the top five could've made this day a little better.
One last thing: One of the big questions of the weekend will be if the teams figured why there were 22 speeding  penalties on pit road during the June race.  If that epidemic occurs again, it could well decide the outcome of the race.

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