Is it déjà vu for Joey Logano all over again? He sure hopes so.
Two years ago, Logano fought through a very consistent regular season with just one win and yet capitalized on timely victories in the playoffs which produced his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford team appear to have discovered a similar recipe to success this year.
Logano earned two wins in this season’s first four races, but since the sport’s return in May after a two-month suspension during the COVID-19 pandemic, he had yet to visit Victory Lane again until Sunday.
His victory in the Hollywood Casino was important in two respects – the win in the Round of 8 guarantees he will be one of four drivers racing for the series title in two weeks at Phoenix and it showed his team could battle toe-to-toe with the series’ most prolific winner.
Logano held off multiple challenges from Kevin Harvick over the final 40 laps at Kansas Speedway to secure the critical victory. Harvick, the regular season champion and top playoff seed, has won a career-best nine races already in 2020.
“I think (the victory) means a lot, if I’m being honest. I’ve lived this story once where you really just kind of – you’re not last minute trying to throw together a championship car for Phoenix because you’re trying to build so many other ones.
“It just gives the team time to really start focusing on a car that can put us in the position to win. If you only have so much time in the day, you got to prioritize, you’re going to prioritize to get yourself in the Championship 4 first.
“Now that we did that, we’re going to have 100-percent of our time to Phoenix.”
2018 all over again?
Twice in the last four years, the playoff driver who won the opening Round of 8 went on to win the championship. That was the case with Logano in 2018 and the other instance was Jimmie Johnson in 2016.
In Logano’s case, not only does he and his team have two weeks to prepare to compete for another championship but he will do so on a track on which he has already secured a victory this season.
The significance is not lost on Logano’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, but he also knows there are no guarantees.
“Things continue to evolve. We can’t unload the same exact car as we raced earlier this year at Phoenix and think that’s going to be good enough, right? We’ve had a whole pretty much season of racing, development,” Wolfe said.
“With that being said, the last short track we were at, we were strong obviously. That’s encouraging. We didn’t lose anything on our short track program throughout the year. But we got to continue to be better.”
As in the 2018 season, Logano’s appearance in the Championship 4 – especially by winning his way in – came as somewhat as a surprise.
This year, like in 2018, there are other drivers – Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Logano’s teammate Brad Keselowski for instance – who have more wins and would likely be in a better position to transfer by points.
But like 2018, Logano will relish the unexpected.
“I’m A-OK with being the underdog. Kind of been there for most of my career,” he said. “I’m fine with that, doesn’t bother me a bit.”
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