Logano becoming a factor in Chase race

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Charlotte, NC (Sports Network) - In what was turning out to be a bummer season for Joey Logano in NASCAR's top series, the 21-year-old has been on a surge the past couple of weeks. And that momentum might not only save his job at Joe Gibbs Racing, but potentially launch him into this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship as well.

After a strong ending to last season, many expected 2011 to be a breakout year for Logano. But this season was not living up to his and JGR's expectations, as he had only one top-five finish and two top-10s to show for in the first 15 races. His future with the team has also been in doubt lately.

Things are looking up for Logano though. He started on the pole and finished sixth on the road course at Sonoma, CA the last weekend in June. Logano followed up with a third-place run last Saturday night at Daytona. He's now up to 20th in the point standings.

"Being 20th in the points, it's good," Logano said. "It's nowhere even close to where we expected to be or where we wanted to be at this point in the season. We're excited that we're back into the top-20 in points. We need to be a lot better than that."

He also won the Nationwide race at Daytona -- his first victory in that series this season.

Logano's bid for the Chase could go into full swing later this week when the Sprint Cup Series competes at the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway for the first time. He will certainly be a favorite to win the inaugural 400-mile race there. Logano has a perfect record at Kentucky in the Nationwide Series, starting on the pole and winning in each of his three starts at that track.

He won the 2008 Nationwide race at Kentucky in only his third start.

"My first one was probably the most special there at Kentucky, being my first win in my third start," he said. "It was really big. I felt like that was one of those key moments in my career that was able to get me into my Sprint Cup ride that I have now. You see some guys that are able to win a race pretty quick like that. They get people thinking about you and moving you up pretty quick.

"Joey Logano's early success in Nationwide quickly landed him a ride in Sprint Cup.
"Winning there was huge, and I think the last one was really cool, too, just because it was a record. To get three poles and three wins in a row at one racetrack wasn't done before at the time, so it was pretty neat to be able to do that. It's just a really fun racetrack. I like it a lot. I was able to test there a lot when we were able to, and I think all that has really helped me a lot for when I get there to race."

Logano's early success in Nationwide quickly landed him a ride in Sprint Cup. He replaced Tony Stewart in JGR's No.20 car for the 2009 season when Stewart left the team to serve as both driver and owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

During his 2009 rookie season in Cup, Logano picked up his first victory at New Hampshire, becoming the youngest driver to win a race at the age of 19 years, one month and four days. His win at New Hampshire did come in the most unusual circumstances. He overcame a one-lap deficit twice and then conserved enough fuel before the event was called 28 laps short of the 301-lap distance due to inclement weather.

Currently 59 points behind 10th-place Ryan Newman, Logano will likely have to rely on a "wild card" spot in the Chase.

NASCAR revised it Chase format prior to the start of this season, adding two wild card positions to the 12-driver field. The top-10 drivers will qualify for the playoffs after the regular season concludes September 10 at Richmond. The final two positions will go to the drivers ranked between 11th and 20th that have the most wins.

Denny Hamlin, who is Logano's teammate at JGR, and David Ragan are presently the top-two in the wild card category. Hamlin sits 11th in points, while Ragan, who claimed his first Cup victory at Daytona, occupies the 17th spot in the rankings.

With the series running at Kentucky and then New Hampshire, the next two weekends will be critical for Logano.

"We've been in a hole, and I think we're doing a really good job digging ourselves out of it right now," he said. It seems like once we get up on top of it we'll be fine. I feel like we're on our way out right now.

"We went through a segment like this last year. We were struggling, we came out of it and we finished off the year really strong with a lot of top-5 and top-10 finishes. Hopefully, we're on the same road right now, digging out of there, and we can get back on that run again."

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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