A week away from the start of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, and the defending champion is hardly a thought.
Joey Logano is that driver. He’s currently 13th in the championship standings with three stage wins and one race victory (spring Atlanta), and finished the most recent race at Watkins Glen in 10th place.
“We’re not where we want to be, obviously,” Logano told RACER of his team with the postseason looming. “I don’t think we’re that far off. It doesn’t take much these days to get there and the playoffs change everything.
“We’ve been through it so many times where who looks like the favorite starting the playoffs and who wins it is usually different more times than not.”
When the regular season concludes on Saturday night at Daytona, the drivers in the top 10 in the championship standings will be awarded additional playoff points. Logano would need to leapfrog Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick to have that opportunity. The eight playoff points Logano does have put him 10th on the playoff grid before the field is reseeded.
Logano entered the postseason last year seeded second and he had 25 playoff points to fall back on.
“We just have to go through the playoffs like we typically know how,” he said. “We’ve done it for years. Paul’s [Wolfe] done it for years. I’ve done it for years. We know how to just attack each round and just stay alive. If you stay alive long enough, the tide eventually turns and things change and all of a sudden, you’re in the right spot.
“As long as you’re still in the game, you have a chance. If you get knocked out early, it doesn’t even matter after that. We just have to stay in the game through the first couple of rounds and see what we’ve got.”
It is of no mind to Logano that the deck looks stacked against him with the stage points he’ll take in the postseason with him. Or that he likely isn’t on the list of favorites considering the consistent week-to-week performance of others like Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Those are the top three drivers in the championship standings and have combined 10 victories.
Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe have plenty of experience winning in the playoff format. Nigel Kinrade/Motorsport Images
The lowest seed a driver has won the championship from is seventh, which was done by Kevin Harvick (2014) and Logano (2018).
Logano is going to lean on the experience of winning two championships in the elimination format, as well as the experience that the No. 22 team has understanding the mindset they need to be in as the postseason shapes up.
“We’ve been through it,” Logano said. “In 2018, we weren’t the favorites. I’d argue 2022, by the numbers, we were close to the favorites but not quite maybe. We haven’t really been the lead (guy) into any of them and we’ve been in the hunt plenty of times. So, if we just do what we have to do, we’ll be fine.”
In the manufacturer’s performance pecking order, Ford is third and the struggles the company has had on downforce tracks are clear. They haven’t shied away from them either – it’s been a long year of trying to hit on every detail that will close the gap.
But for Logano, the gains have only done so much because a Ford team still needs to be absolutely perfect to be victorious. Ford went until the last weekend of July before picking up its third victory, which was the start of Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell giving Ford a three-race winning streak at Richmond Raceway, Michigan International Speedway and the Indianapolis road course.
Yet, Logano won’t say things have turned around in the Ford camp.
“I’m still skeptical for a few reasons,” he said. “I think Richmond masked a lot of our weaknesses and if I look at Michigan, the 19 (Truex) was the fastest car, and Buescher did a good job in both of those races. That team executed two perfect races to put themselves at the front and ultimately win both of them. So, the 17 team should get a lot of credit for that.
“Last week, McDowell is a good road racer, back against the wall type of situation, definitely brought a lot of speed which really no one else was able to.
“Until you see all of us up there at the same time, I’d say we’re not quite there yet. But it’s good to see that there is potential if we hit everything just right and we’re absolutely perfect, we can have a chance.”
And all Logano ever needs is a chance – as he will with another playoff appearance – to try and make something happen.