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July30 Loganobusch

Analysis: Breaking down Joey Logano-Kyle Busch battle

Upon first, second and – heck – even third glance, it looks like Kyle Busch should be leading the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship point standings.

The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is tied for most victories (four), owns the most stage wins (eight) and has led the most laps (1,015). He’s down for 818 points overall, and that’s good for second place.

Joey Logano, holding the No. 1 spot after 21 races in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford, boasts 824 points. The series’ reigning champion has won two races (Martin Truex Jr. is the one who matches Busch) and seven stages. He has led 609 laps.

RELATED: Complete look at championship standings

Points decide the standings and are determined by race and stage results. The winner of a race is awarded 40 points, second then gets 35, third gets 34, fourth gets 33 and so on through the entire field. Only the top 10 stage finishers collect additional points, with the winner earning 10 and each person after receiving one less.

Busch, who’s averaging a 7.2 finish this season, has 642 points from race outcomes. Logano’s 9.4 average finish has brought him 588 points. The barometer is skewed 54 points in Busch’s favor here.

Where Logano makes up ground is stage points. He leads all his competitors with 226, whereas Busch comes in at 176. That brings Busch to his current 818 mark when added up. Logano comes to 814, cutting Busch’s advantage down to just four points.

Here’s what ultimately pushes Logano ahead of Busch: Logano won the Gander RV Duel 2 at Daytona International Speedway before the season officially started with the Daytona 500. The makeshift victory gave him 10 points straight from the get-go. Add that to the previous number and – lo and behold – Logano is at his current 824 total.

Joey Logano vs. Kyle Busch: Battle through 21 races

Category Joey Logano Kyle Busch
Rank 1 2
Overall Points 824 818
Race Points 588 642
Stage Points 226 176
Wins 2 4
Stage Wins 7 8
Top 5s 9 11
Top 10s 14 18
Stage 1 Top 10s 18 13
Stage 2 Top 10s 15 14
Laps Led 609 1,015
Average Stage 1 Finish 5.5 9
Average Stage 2 Finish 8.3 9.1
Average Finish 9.4 7.2

There are five races left in the regular season, starting with a trip to Watkins Glen International this Sunday at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Both Logano and Busch are locked into the NASCAR Playoffs, which will begin Sept. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, thanks to their respective victories. The regular-season crown, given to the driver with the most points, is still up for grabs.

RELATED: Playoff outlook | Watkins Glen schedule

Right now, the six-point difference after 21 races between Logano and Busch is the tightest battle in the sport’s elimination era (2014-present) and second closest in the modern era (1972-present). Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth had five points separating them in the 2012 season. There was no Regular Season Champion at that time, though. The honor was introduced in 2017.

Truex took home the inaugural award and then went on to win the ultimate title at Homestead-Miami Speedway later that season. Busch was actually last year’s regular-season titleholder and later finished fourth in the final standings.

Since the playoff system was implemented in 2004, there have been four instances among three drivers where the standings leader at this point ended up winning the end-of-season championship. Obviously, there was Truex. Jimmie Johnson also did so in 2006 and 2013, with Tony Stewart pulling if off in 2005.

The No. 2 driver has won the championship once: Johnson in 2009.

Logano (2018) and Busch (2015) each have one title.

Playoff Era: Points through 21 races

Season Leader (final rank) Second (final rank) Behind Leader
2019 Joey Logano Kyle Busch 6
2018 *Kyle Busch (4) Kevin Harvick (3) 48
2017 *Martin Truex Jr. (1) Kyle Larson (8) 85
2016 Kevin Harvick (8) Brad Keselowski (12) 22
2015 Kevin Harvick (2) Joey Logano (6) 46
2014 Jeff Gordon (6) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (8) 17
2013 Jimmie Johnson (1) Clint Bowyer (7) 77
2012 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12) Matt Kenseth (7) 5
2011 Carl Edwards (2) Jimmie Johnson (6) 9
2010 Kevin Harvick (3) Jeff Gordon (9) 189
2009 Tony Stewart (6) Jimmie Johnson (1) 197
2008 Kyle Busch (10) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12) 176
2007 Jeff Gordon (2) Denny Hamlin (12) 366
2006 Jimmie Johnson (1) Matt Kenseth (2) 107
2005 Tony Stewart (1) Jimmie Johnson (5) 75
2004 Jimmie Johnson (2) Jeff Gordon (3) 97

*Regular Season Champion; Note: The points system was simplified to a 43-1 format with a one-point per finishing position in 2011; the system was further revamped with the advent of stages in 2017.