Fresh faces blend with established guard in Cup Playoffs’ Round of 8

Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano chat on pit road during the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Jared C. Tilton
Getty Images

Joey Logano took to social media Thursday to document a gas station fill-up, a fairly mundane task made much more exotic considering the car he drove up to the pump – a gullwing-doored DeLorean DMC-12 that he was readying for date night.

Logano says he was a big fan of the space-age styling when he added the car to his personal collection. The “Back to the Future” movie fandom came later.

“It seems to put a smile on everybody’s face when you drive that thing around,” Logano said. “But my son since then has become a big fan of ‘Back to the Future.’ And he actually was Marty McFly for Halloween last year. So the DeLorean got a lot of usage last year for his Halloween outfit.”

Tooling around in an automotive oddity from another era offered a slice of home life Thursday before Logano turns to his day job in the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The circuit visits Las Vegas Motor Speedway next, kicking off the final three-race elimination bracket with Sunday’s South Point 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM).

RELATED: Playoff standings | Las Vegas weekend schedule

Logano is one of eight drivers with Cup Series title hopes still intact. After the upcoming races at Las Vegas, Homestead-Miami and Martinsville, the postseason field will be cut in half for the Championship 4 round in the Nov. 6 finale at Phoenix Raceway.

The remaining eight drivers are an interesting lot. Logano and fellow veteran Denny Hamlin are the only drivers above the 30-year-old threshold, and only those two plus Chase Elliott have ever made the Championship 4 round in previous seasons.

William Byron's No. 24 Chevrolet battles close to Christopher Bell's No. 20 Toyota at Texas Motor Speedway
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Suspending disbelief, if Logano were to channel his inner Doc Brown and set his flux capacitor just five years back, he’d time-travel to a season when current playoff driver Christopher Bell was putting the wraps on a Camping World Truck Series title and William Byron was headed toward an Xfinity Series crown – both drivers not far removed from their grassroots days. Cup title hopefuls Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain were also still waiting for their call-up to NASCAR’s big leagues.

In some ways, it was an eternity ago. In other ways, the era wasn’t such a long-ago time.

“I mean, it is kind of crazy to think about how much our sport has changed, right?” Logano said during a Thursday afternoon Zoom. “You’ve had quite a few drivers retire here recently, and those seats have been filled with great talent, and obviously that’s starting to show more and more, especially with this Next Gen car. You get in this Next Gen car, it didn’t matter as much with experience, didn’t matter as much with the new car and knowing where the track’s gonna go and how restarts go and those type of things. Those type of things are all washed away. If you were going to be a rookie, this is the year to be a rookie.

“But at this point, during the playoffs, those things stay the same, right? No matter what car you’re driving, I guess the pressure stays the same, but how you go about it and all those things, that advantage that the experienced guys had is gone.”

Logano and Hamlin have each made four Championship 4 appearances, and Elliott has reached that round twice. The remaining five have yet to achieve title eligibility for the finale, guaranteeing that a new face will be among this year’s four finalists at Phoenix.

MORE: Five drivers bidding for first Championship 4

Added to this season’s Round of 8 complexion is the variety of winners, currently at 19 after an unpredictable season to date. That uncertainty has crept into the playoffs, where three former series champions – Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick – are already out. Just two former champs remain in the mix – Elliott and Logano.

“I think it just shows the competitiveness across the whole field,” said Ryan Blaney, Logano’s Team Penske teammate who is in his third Round of 8 appearance without a Championship 4 berth. “There’s a lot of guys who have not made it — have ever been in the playoffs, number one — and have never made it to the Round of 8. … I think it just shows the depth of talents across the whole field. You know, you’ve seen champions get eliminated from the playoffs already, and there’s a lot of new faces here that are not champions right now that have a shot to go to Phoenix and contend.

“So it just shows the talent level, I think, no matter how much experience you have. I feel like the sport’s healthy with talent right now, and it just shows that anybody can jump up there and make a run at this thing.”

Logano, who started his Cup Series career as an 18-year-old prodigy in 2009, is now among the established guard hoping to keep the postseason upstarts at bay – if not in the current round, then certainly once the winner-take-all finale arrives next month. Logano has won once at each track in the Round of 8, and his Homestead-Miami victory in 2018 was a title clincher. Each of those victories, however, came in a previous generation of Cup Series cars and against a different array of competitors.

Having been there before? Logano says that still counts.

“I think experience always matters,” Logano said. “Yeah, the car is different, and things are different, but the pressure is the same. And as you get through these rounds, and how you execute throughout it, it’s the same. So anytime you’ve been through something before and you’re going back to it again, you’re always stronger and more comfortable in that situation. So I feel really good about where we’re at as a race team. Everyone on this team has won a championship before, they’ve been through the pressure before, they’ve won, they’ve lost — we’ve done it all together and know how to do that. So I feel like we’ve got a great team to go to battle with and a team that’s been there before.”