NASCAR Barometer: Two for Two for Logano

NASCAR Barometer: Two for Two for Logano

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano took the second of two possible victories in the Contender Round of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 22 has been the most consistent driver in the series since the Chase began, and now has two wins in two races in this round of eliminations. He's the only driver resting easy before the final race of the Contender Round, which just so happens to be one of the most unpredictable racetracks on the schedule. Talladega Superspeedway now looms for all other Chase drivers, as they hope to keep their championship efforts alive.

Talladega's high-speed and high-risk oval lies ahead this week, and the Campingworld.com 500 is the final race before the Eliminator Round of the Chase. With only the No. 22 safely in the next round of eliminations, many competitors feel like they have to win to keep their championship efforts alive. The No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will likely enter the race as the favorite, but Talladega favors no driver and promises to be the biggest wildcard.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano was the class of the field for the second week in a row. The Penske Racing driver was chasing race leader Matt Kenseth in the closing laps, and arguably had the faster car at the time Kenseth spun. Logano continues to be the most consistent driver in the series, and has his sights firmly set on winning this year's championship. Talladega isn't the best track for Logano, so it's good that he

Joey Logano took the second of two possible victories in the Contender Round of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup. The No. 22 has been the most consistent driver in the series since the Chase began, and now has two wins in two races in this round of eliminations. He's the only driver resting easy before the final race of the Contender Round, which just so happens to be one of the most unpredictable racetracks on the schedule. Talladega Superspeedway now looms for all other Chase drivers, as they hope to keep their championship efforts alive.

Talladega's high-speed and high-risk oval lies ahead this week, and the Campingworld.com 500 is the final race before the Eliminator Round of the Chase. With only the No. 22 safely in the next round of eliminations, many competitors feel like they have to win to keep their championship efforts alive. The No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. will likely enter the race as the favorite, but Talladega favors no driver and promises to be the biggest wildcard.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano was the class of the field for the second week in a row. The Penske Racing driver was chasing race leader Matt Kenseth in the closing laps, and arguably had the faster car at the time Kenseth spun. Logano continues to be the most consistent driver in the series, and has his sights firmly set on winning this year's championship. Talladega isn't the best track for Logano, so it's good that he got the win last week. He hasn't finished in the top 10 there since 2011, and has etched four DNFs. He may be tempted to take next week off to watch the fireworks and then return to action at Martinsville.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin extended his run of top finishes with a runner-up finish in Kansas last week. That finish was his fourth top-5 in the last five races, and gives him a nice position heading into the final race of the Contender Round. Hopes weren't high when he injured his knee prior to the Chase, but the injury hasn't slowed him down. Hamlin still can't rest easy before coming out of next week's race, but the results he's delivered so far give him some confidence. Hamlin won at Talladega last spring and finished ninth there earlier this season. The last quarter of the season has been his best, which means he's peaking at the perfect time to assist his championship hopes.

Jimmie Johnson – The last two weeks saw rare mechanical failures for the No. 48 team. The first of those two issues ended Johnson's hopes of winning this year's championship, too. However, he was back in expected form in Kansas. In the closing miles, Johnson worked his way into the top 5, and benefited from Logano's contact with Kenseth to be within striking distance of the win. He doesn't have a championship to battle for, but Talladega could still give him a final win as the season draws to a close. He is a two-time Talladega winner and finished second there earlier this season. He hasn't failed to lead a lap at the track since 2009 and may be a valuable fantasy option this week.

Ryan Blaney – The next generation of stars in NASCAR are just now getting their first races under their belts. One of the most promising may be Blaney. In Kansas he was making only his 13th Sprint Cup start of the season, but you would've thought him a veteran. Blaney was fast throughout the weekend, qualified seventh and finished eighth in his first top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile oval. In his last trip to Talladega he scored his only other Cup top-10: fourth. He started third in that race. This young driver has eight top-5s and nine top-10s in 12 Xfinity starts and could be the next big name to make a splash as a rookie in the Cup series. Sunday's effort only encouraged those dreams of greatness.

DOWNGRADE

Tony Stewart – After failing to deliver enough speed to be among the leaders all weekend, Stewart endured another miserable race last week in Kansas. The veteran lost control early in the race and spent the remainder of the race multiple laps off of the lead lap. He never fully recovered from that spin and spent most of the afternoon outside of the top-30. His final finishing place was 35th, which isn't good enough for the former champion. Next week's race could allow Stewart to outperform his recent results, though. Talladega neutralizes the horsepower issues Stewart has been battling, but he finished 19th there earlier this season. The 2016 rules package may be better for the owner/driver, but he still has to finish 2015.

Kyle Larson – Like Stewart, Larson was another driver who couldn't hold his car together at Kansas. The young driver, who was so strong on 1.5-mile tri-ovals last season, spun before the halfway mark and dropped to the back of the order. He recovered only slightly better than Stewart, finishing 29th. More top-10 races are required from Larson in 2016 to make a serious run at the Chase. In 2015, Larson continues searching for his first win in the series and he crashed the last time he visited Talladega. His best finish at the superspeedway was his first time there when he finished ninth.

Austin Dillon – Dillon was running in the top 5 again last week in Kansas when another issue ruined his afternoon. A blown right-front tire sent him into the wall and out of another top performance for the No. 3. Damage from the contact was too much for the team to overcome, and Dillon recorded a 41st-place finish in what could have been another good weekend for him. The team needs to piece together a full mistake-free race to capitalize on the decent form they had started to find in recent weeks to become a regular fantasy option. Dillon's best Talladega finish in four tries was 13th last fall, but an engine failure dropped him out of the race there earlier this year.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – A loose wheel sent Earnhardt up the racetrack and straight onto pit road to make changes. The unplanned stop dropped him off of the lead lap, and forced the Hendrick driver into a situation in which he almost has to win next week at Talladega in order to keep his championship hopes alive. The 21st-place Kansas finish means he sits 11th of the 12 remaining Chase contenders. He has six wins at that track, with the most recent coming earlier this season where he led 67 laps. If there is any driver who can go out feeling confident at Talladega it's Earnhardt, but it certainly is not the ideal situation for the veteran driver.

Clint Bowyer – Sunday was another week to forget for Bowyer in his final season with Michael Waltrip Racing. The driver hooked his car hard into the outside wall and out of the race to bring out the fifth caution of the race. Bowyer hasn't shown the pace of the top leaders in recent weeks, and be looking to next season to turn over a new leaf. His pace at Kansas was no different than the prior races, and he has to be anxious for a rebirth with a new team. Looking to next week, Talladega has been a decent venue for Bowyer. He has three wins at the track and three top-10s in his last four stop there, but finished 30th earlier this season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Matt Kenseth – After trouble two weeks ago in Charlotte, Kenseth bounced back to be a driving force last week in Kansas. The Joe Gibbs driver was out front in the final 100 laps of the race, and was the car to beat in the closing miles. Everything was looking great for the No. 20 up until that point. He was in the lead with less than 10 laps remaining, but slight contact from the charging Logano sent Kenseth into a spin and out of contention for the win. Kenseth is also an adept racer on restrictor-plate tracks. He has one Talladega win, and finished second in the fall Talladega race last season. He sits last in the 12-man Chase field, and probably needs to win to advance next week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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