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Wild Card Watch: Busch, Logano becoming factors

July 03, 2013, George Winkler, NASCAR.com

Wild Card Watch: Busch, Logano becoming factors
Driver of the No. 22 rises to 10th; Busch closes in after controversial move

Related: Sprint Cup Standings

After their run-in at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season, Denny Hamlin was asked what Joey Logano said to him during the heat of the moment following a tense race. Hamlin’s response: “He said he was coming for me. I usually don’t see him, so it’s usually not a factor.”

Hamlin, of course, was taking a jab at Logano, who has two wins in his first five-plus seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and has feuded with his former teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing.

But after bottoming out with a 39th-place finish in April at Kansas, Logano has gone on a run that has included six top-10 finishes in his past nine Cup races. During this stretch, Logano has vaulted from 20th in the standings to 10th after finishing fourth Sunday at Kentucky. He’s even ahead of Penske Racing teammate and defending Cup Series champ Brad Keselowski, who sits 13th after his bad-luck wreck in the Bluegrass State.

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Because Logano doesn’t have a victory yet this season, that puts him on the fringe of qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with nine races to go before the playoffs get underway. Logano is one point ahead of Kasey Kahne, who is in 11th but has a victory in his back pocket, and two points in front of Jeff Gordon. Logano trails the ninth-place driver, Greg Biffle, by 10 points.

So while Hamlin’s statement might have been true earlier this season, Logano is fast becoming a factor for the Chase at this hour. Not bad for someone Tony Stewart called “a little rich kid that has never had to work in his life” after their run-in March at the Auto Club 400.

That incident, by the way, happened on a restart when Stewart must have felt Logano did something wrong. (Gee, you think?) Interestingly, Logano showed a good bit of driving skill this weekend at Kentucky when Jimmie Johnson spun on a restart on Lap 247. Logano could have plowed right into Johnson, but instead pulled back and allowed for J.J. to gather himself.

So maybe, just maybe, Logano's skills are maturing and he's ready to be a serious contender for the Chase. But what are his chances of keeping the run going?

Looking ahead to Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT), we see Logano has two top-fives and three top-10s in nine Cup races at NASCAR’s premier venue.

Those three top-10s came consecutively before he finished 19th in this year’s Daytona 500. And that wasn’t such a bad finish, either, considering all the big wrecks that littered the first points race for the Generation-6 car.

This week will be a good test to see how much staying power Logano has in the race for the Chase.

Ready to pounce: Kurt Busch, Furniture Row Racing. Busch was in this space last week along with Gordon, but now he gets it all to himself after a sixth-place finish at Kentucky that bumped him up three spots in the standings to 14th.

Busch is just 16 points behind Logano for the final non-Wild Card Chase spot. Busch is reeling from a bit of controversy, though, after nudging Keselowski and causing a seven-car wreck that Busch readily admitted was his fault.

Provided nobody hunts him down for retaliation, Busch figures to stick around this race for a while. He has four top-10 finishes in his past six races. Trouble is he also has four races this season when he has finished 30th or worse.

While there has been a little too much yo-yo effect going on for Busch, he seems to be getting hot at the right time. Busch has had some ups-and-downs at Daytona, too, finishing 28th there earlier this year, so he’ll have to overcome that as well.  

In danger of falling out: Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing. Some might say he already has fallen out, and it’s starting to sound that way from his quotes, too, as he talks about doing well the rest of the year for his sponsors. But with Hamlin’s history of getting into the Chase late, we didn’t want to completely rule him out.

It sure would add to the drama if he could pull out a victory or two down the stretch and give fans something to think about after what has been a season with bad luck at every turn. That string continued last week at Kentucky, where Hamlin cut two tires with the second incident sending him into the wall on the way to a 35th-place finish.

Hamlin has finished 23rd or worse in four of his past five races, and his history at Daytona isn’t great. He has only two top-10s in 15 races at DIS. So if he gets DIS-sed again, Hamlin could be out of this thing for good.

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