No. 22 team running out of mulligans in Chase pursuit
Maybe it was just a social media ripple, nothing more, but the number sure stood out.
Tuesday afternoon’s announcement that Penske Racing would field three Ford Mustangs in the NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Watkins Glen on Aug. 10 included the news nugget that Joey Logano’s entry would carry No. 48, the car number synonymous with current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader and five-time series champ Jimmie Johnson.
No pressure, right?
“I don't think there's any back story behind that one, but I thought it was kind of funny,” Logano said Wednesday in a NASCAR Cam video teleconference. “I was like, man, (crew chief) Todd (Gordon) is going to call the race for us, and I said, ‘Well, I'm just going to call him Chad (Knaus), and you can call me Jimmie.’ I think if I don't win in the 48 car, we've got an issue.”
The more pressing issue for Logano is trying to right the ship in time to clinch a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason. Just six races, starting with this Sunday’s GoBowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN), remain before the field of 12 title-eligible drivers is locked.
Logano currently sits 18th in the standings, 35 points behind Jeff Gordon, who holds the 10th and final automatic qualifying spot. He’ll either need to mount a steady charge into the top 10 or collect at least one victory to be in the conversation for one of the two available Wild Card berths. Although time is tight for the 23-year-old driver, Logano says he’s not yet in panic mode with his Chase possibilities.
“We're right on edge of not being able to do that now,” Logano said, regarding his chances of sealing a Chase spot through the top 10 in standings. “In my eyes and in Todd's eyes, we can make it in points. We're not to the point that we're going to take a big gamble and go for a win, and if it doesn't work out, we're going to finish 25th. We can't quite do that yet, but we're really, really close. We're one bad race away from we need to win or finish 25th. We're not there yet, but we're one race from it, I think.”
What Logano needs more than anything is to turn the yo-yo effect of his season in the right direction. Over his last 10 races, Logano went from 19th place in Sprint Cup standings after Darlington in May all the way to 10th after taking fourth place at Kentucky, capping a substantial run of five top-10 finishes in six races.
Since then, he’s tailed off dramatically. Back-to-back 40th-place finishes at Daytona and New Hampshire cost Logano eight positions in the standings, and though his eighth-place effort at Indianapolis helped stem the free-fall, Logano still has major ground to gain in order to make the Chase for the first time in his fifth year of Sprint Cup competition.
“The goal is to stay even keel. Easier said than done, though,” said Logano, in his first season with the Penske organization. “You know, obviously, yes, when you're moving up through the points, it's obviously when it's the easiest. You get a lot of confidence. You get a lot of momentum, and everyone's attitudes are great. You have two bad finishes, yes, it's going to ‑‑ it hurts. It takes some wind out of your sail, for sure. But you have to find the silver lining, wherever it is, and look forward. The more you dwell on the stuff, it just hurts the team.”
The lining to Logano’s cloud might be that the he views the next half-dozen races as favorable venues for him to make a move. That includes Sunday’s race at Pocono, where Logano notched his second career Sprint Cup win in June 2012 from the pole position.
From Pocono, the schedule goes to Watkins Glen, Michigan, Bristol and Atlanta before culminating at Richmond, site of the last race of the regular season. Staying true to his optimism, Logano sees the upcoming slate of tracks as an opportunity, not a hurdle.
“There’s a few that stand out,” Logano said. “I think Pocono this weekend is one that stands out. I think you look at Bristol; we had a really fast car there in the spring that's capable of winning. That one stands out. Watkins Glen actually stands out to me as a race we can win. The next few races coming up, I feel really good about. I feel like we can win at. So I don't see any bad tracks coming up for me right now that I'm worried about.”