FORT WORTH, Texas – Hope for the best. Plan for the worst.
That’s what Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are thinking for next weekend’s Round of 8 playoff elimination race at ISM Raceway now that there are only two spots remaining in the Championship 4. Currently, both drivers are safe in the postseason standings. Busch sits third with a 22-point cushion, and Logano is right behind him in fourth with a 20-point safety net.
They’re smart enough, though, to know they’re not locked in.
“It’s going to be a good battle, for sure,” Logano said. “We’re definitely racing for that last spot just in case someone behind us outside of the top four wins.”
The postseason picture sure changed after Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Kevin Harvick won, launching himself from below the cutline to a guaranteed title contender. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin did the exact opposite. He was second but now takes over Harvick’s previous fifth-place spot (-20) after a 28th-place finish at Texas.
Also heading to Phoenix in the negatives are Ryan Blaney (-23 in sixth; eighth at Texas), Kyle Larson (-23 in seventh; 12th at Texas) and Chase Elliott (-78 in eighth; 32nd at Texas).
“Unless the 18 or 22 has major issues,” Larson said, “then yeah, we for sure have to go there and win.”
Busch led 18 laps in Texas’ 334-lapper and wound up seventh come checkered flag. Logano was further up in fourth after having led just five go-arounds.
Neither won a stage despite being the only drivers — playoff or not — with a double-digit stage wins total this season (Busch 11, Logano 10). Busch was fifth and Logano was 23rd in Stage 1. Logano was then sixth and Busch was ninth in Stage 2. Busch ended up with eight stage points, giving him 38 for the race. Logano earned six in the stages and 39 in the event.
Overall, Busch has 4,113 points and Logano has 4,111 points.
“We all know one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” Busch said. “If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put ourselves through as well.”
Busch has made it to ISM’s Victory Lane three times — second most in the NASCAR Playoffs field — in 28 starts. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver actually won there earlier this season and the postseason race in Phoenix last season.
Logano, on the other hand, has taken the ISM checkered flag once in 21 starts, and the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford placed 10th there in the spring.
“I mean, obviously the 18 team is good,” Logano said. “But I think we’re a great team. They’re beatable just like everybody else.”
ISM is a 1-mile track as opposed to Texas’ 1.5-miler, but then it’s back to another 1.5-mile circuit with Homestead-Miami Speedway for the finale on Nov. 17.
Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. (thanks to his Round of 8 opener win at Martinsville Speedway) already have their tickets to Miami punched. Two remain.
Logano and Busch each have a championship to their name — Logano in 2018 and Busch in 2015 — and want to add another.
“It’s going to be a race between the 18 and the 22,” Busch said. “Imagine that.”