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August 17, 2017

Bowyer, Logano perched on NASCAR playoff bubble

RELATED: NASCAR Playoff Bubble watch for Bristol | Playoff standings

Yes, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano may still remain on the NASCAR playoff bubble in the Monster Energy Series field with three weeks to point or win their way into the mix.

But these two veterans have probably long had this portion of the scheduled circled — heads-up, thumbs up.

Three drivers — Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth — hold playoff-eligible positions by virtue of points. However, that could change with new winners at any of the next three venues.

Bowyer is ranked 17th, one position below the playoff cutoff, trailing 16th-place Kenseth by 31 points entering Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM) at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Logano is one position behind Bowyer, in 18th place and trailing Kenseth by a more sizable 98-point margin. It’s more of a longshot for him to gain enough points to crack the playoff field. He needs to win. Fortunately for him, he has venues coming up where he’s celebrated before.

BRISTOL STATS: Clint Bowyer | Joey Logano

This week’s .533-mile Bristol bullring looks good for both Bowyer and Logano. The next stop in Darlington, S.C., over Labor Day may be the wild card as both drivers have much better records to stand on in Richmond, Va. — site of the regular-season finale — in three weeks.

“You can’t worry about those points,” Bowyer said of his chances. “You have to go out and do your job week in and week out. If you do that, I feel like, with the way we’re running, we can get in two different ways.

“I think we could win and I think we can point our way in. I think both of those are definite do-ables right now for us.”

At Bristol, Bowyer has 11 top-10 finishes in 23 starts for an impressive percentage, and that includes a runner-up finish there in April.

He has finished among the top 10 in three of the last four Bristol races with two top fives.

Logano is the youngest pole-sitter in Bristol’s great history (March 2010 at the age of 19) and established himself one of the track’s best qualifiers early on. Most important to Logano and his Team Penske outfit, he enters Saturday’s race with four straight top-10 finishes at Bristol, leading laps in every one of the races. And he won the summer night race in back-to-back seasons, 2014-2015.

“We’ve come close to victory several times this year,” said Bowyer, who has scored the 10th-most points of any driver this season with four top-three finishes. “That’s what can be so frustrating. You are only one or two spots away from where you want to be, but there’s a huge difference between first and everything else in this business.

“I want to celebrate in front of all those wild and crazy fans,” he said of Bristol. “There’s no better atmosphere. They’re so close to you that you feel that environment.

“I’m the hunter, not the hunted, so it’s a lot of fun to go into this weekend knowing that you’ve got to go out there and chase that guy down or chase those guys down and, hopefully, pop off a win here and just put it all to bed.”

RELATED: Playoff clinch scenarios for Bristol

If not … the two will set their sights on Darlington, where neither Bowyer nor Logano has won before. Logano has a pair of top-fives, while Bowyer is still racing for his first at the sport’s legendarily “tough” track.

And if the facility lives up to its nickname, the two drivers will gladly head north to Virginia the next week where the three-quarter mile-Richmond oval will firmly decide the playoff field.

Both Bowyer and Logano have won twice at Richmond.

They bring a solid resume in general, beyond the trophy-hoisting. Bowyer’s sixth-place driver rating is tops among any of the contenders — including Logano and those three winless drivers in the playoffs by points right now: Kenseth, McMurray and Elliott.

Bowyer has led 348 laps at Richmond and spent 70.9 percent of his race time driving in the top-15 of the field.

Logano, who has led 190 laps total at the track, won Richmond in the spring but NASCAR ruled it was an encumbered finish the Thursday after the race (issues with the rear suspension were found during inspection). The win remains in Logano’s column in the season standings, however with an asterisk next to it, disallowing the automatic playoff bid or playoff points.

A victory at Richmond would not only boost Logano into the playoffs, but also would likely be a huge psychological lift for the perennial championship challenging team.

The tone is set and there is no panic.

“On to the next one,” Logano said following last Sunday’s race. “We’ll keep moving.”