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Logano clinging to slim Chase hopes

September 01, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Joey Logano is in the pool of drivers racing for the Chase wild card with one win, but is the lowest of the group on points. (Getty)

Joe Gibbs Racing driver keeping questions about future, possbile move at bay

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Joey Logano is munching on a box of raisins in his hauler before Friday's qualifying for the AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

No chips, no chocolate, no chicken fingers -- no wonder Logano is slim as a rail.

"[Free agency] is a pain it the butt. It's a distraction. It affects you, for sure. That's why you want to get it done as soon as possible."

--JOEY LOGANO

But a similar description might apply to Logano's chances to make the Chase for the Cup.

A win at Atlanta on Sunday night and he's likely in the Chase for the first time. Anything less, and he's more likely a 22-year-old driver coping with uncertainty as well as the disappointment of driving out the string in the 2012 season.

"Five or six of us are in the same boat," says Logano, pondering as big a race as he's had in his 135-race Cup career. "We can win one [of the next two races] and be right in the Chase."

But the big picture appears a bit fuzzier for Logano than for veterans like Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman -- others who can spin their seasons 180 degrees with just one victory.

Logano is a free agent. He knows that Matt Kenseth is headed to Joe Gibbs Racing, pending an official announcement next week.

The good news is that although there might not be sponsorship for him to remain at JGR, there could be a job waiting at Penske Racing. The caveat is that Penske incumbent Sam Hornish Jr. is also in the mix and no deal is certain until it's done.

Logano, currently 18th in the point standings, admits his job situation is weighing on his mind.

"[Free agency] is a pain it the butt. It's a distraction," he says. "It affects you, for sure. That's why you want to get it done as soon as possible."

Logano will only say that he is "getting close" to a deal. He expects something official to come down within the next two weeks, but gives no indication whether it's with JGR, the team that fast-tracked him to the Nationwide and Cup series, or with another suitor.

Which is it?

"You'll find out," he says with a grin wide enough to engulf a small box of Sun Maids.

Logano remains in position to make the Chase because he registered the second victory of his career at Pocono Raceway. His eighth at Bristol Motor Speedway last week was his third top-10 finish in 10 races since.

"We haven't had the finishes we deserve this year, but we do have that win and that means a lot," says Logano, aware that Kasey Kahne is in the catbird seat for wild-card entry into the Chase because he's the only driver outside the top 10 in points with two victories.

Next to Logano's No. 20 Home Depot hauler, another Toyota driver, Martin Truex, is breathing easy about next year. He's just agreed to a multi-year deal to remain with Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex hasn't won a Cup race since 2007, but he has all but locked himself into the Chase this year based on his consistency.

Logano isn't about to begrudge Truex or anyone else with job security.

"Good for him," Logano says. "He's got a good ride over there. They've done a really good job. But I can only focus on my own stuff and what Joey Logano has to do to win races."

Logano thought he had a shot last week. After winning his sixth Nationwide Series race of the season on Friday, he led a race-high 139 laps at Bristol last Saturday.

Now, time has grown short. Without a victory at Atlanta or Richmond International Raceway next week, Logano knows his Chase hopes are over.

"Second [place] doesn't mean anything anymore," he says of his team's go-for-broke attitude.

"That may make you a little riskier on the race track -- obviously with calculated risks as a driver. Same thing with the team making pit calls. If our car is not as good as it needs to be, we're going to have to do everything we can do to try to win. Look at what the 99 [Carl Edwards] did last week. They took a car that wasn't really capable of winning but tried to do something crazy. I give him credit for trying. Those are the kind of chances people are taking.

"Last week was frustrating. We thought we had a shot. But we'll take the positive from it, too. We did lead a lot of laps. We showed we can do it. But it was an opportunity for us to get a win."

Finding the winning combination at Atlanta has been difficult for Logano.

Although he said his team was "struggling since we unloaded," his ninth-place qualifying effort on Friday was his best ever on the 1.54-mile oval. Still, he's never finished better than 22nd here.

"I have not done a good job here yet," he admits. "I'm aware of the stats. I'm a big fan of this race track. I just haven't ever really gotten the right feel for the car and what I'm looking for. .... You may want a free race car, but that only lasts for a little bit here."

Learning how to master a track like Atlanta is part of Logano's learning curve. His six victories in 15 Nationwide starts this season have helped the confidence side.

"I definitely a lot more confident in my abilities -- in what I can do and what I need to do," he says. "Wins are great and with those Nationwide wins, I feel I'm in a lot better place than a year ago."

Saturday, Logano was feeling "under the weather," according to his press liaison Jeremy Troiano. His stomach was acting up and it was unclear how many practice laps he might run."

But Logano won't blame the raisins.

"C'mon," he says, "they're good for you."