NASCAR Barometer: Logano Claims Final Four Spot

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Claims Final Four Spot

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Joey Logano held off Kevin Harvick in a colossal battle for one of the four spots in the championship finale up for grabs. The pair were near the front of the field throughout the final stage, and the race off of pit road under the final caution ended up being the difference. Logano's team got him out of the pits first, which gave him the chance to nail the restart and then control the race to its finish despite Harvick throwing everything he had at the Penske Racing driver. The win was the most important of the year (so far) for Logano, and it came after a long dry spell. While he picked up momentum in recent weeks, he hadn't visited Victory Lane since the trip to Phoenix International Raceway just prior to the pandemic. 

Two races remain in the round of eight for Harvick and the other playoff contenders to guarantee themselves spots alongside Logano in the final four. Six playoff contenders finished in the top 10 on Sunday, while Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch lost ground in the fight. Busch suffered the most with a DNF, and he now faces a must-win scenario to make it to Phoenix. Up first is Texas Motor Speedway where Austin Dillon won earlier this season.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Getting off of pit road first made the difference for Logano on Sunday as he was able to hold off Kevin Harvick's charge for the win. The victory was Logano's first since

Joey Logano held off Kevin Harvick in a colossal battle for one of the four spots in the championship finale up for grabs. The pair were near the front of the field throughout the final stage, and the race off of pit road under the final caution ended up being the difference. Logano's team got him out of the pits first, which gave him the chance to nail the restart and then control the race to its finish despite Harvick throwing everything he had at the Penske Racing driver. The win was the most important of the year (so far) for Logano, and it came after a long dry spell. While he picked up momentum in recent weeks, he hadn't visited Victory Lane since the trip to Phoenix International Raceway just prior to the pandemic. 

Two races remain in the round of eight for Harvick and the other playoff contenders to guarantee themselves spots alongside Logano in the final four. Six playoff contenders finished in the top 10 on Sunday, while Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch lost ground in the fight. Busch suffered the most with a DNF, and he now faces a must-win scenario to make it to Phoenix. Up first is Texas Motor Speedway where Austin Dillon won earlier this season.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Getting off of pit road first made the difference for Logano on Sunday as he was able to hold off Kevin Harvick's charge for the win. The victory was Logano's first since the pandemic and came at the perfect time, as it puts him into the championship finale at the last track he won at this season. The win takes immense pressure off of him and the team, as they can now use the next two races to ensure they have everything perfected for the championship-decider at Phoenix International Raceway. Up first is Texas, however. Logano has one win at that track and has only finished outside of the top 10 there once in the last nine races. He is the first driver to earn a chance to race for the season championship, and fantasy players will appreciate the confidence that comes with it.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick struggled with his car at the start of Sunday's race in Kansas but quickly got the situation sorted out and finished seventh in the first stage and then second in the second stage. From there on he appeared to have the car to beat. However, like we've seen at many 1.5-mile ovals this season, track position was the difference maker. After being unable to get off of pit road ahead of Logano, Logano controlled the race and was able to keep Harvick behind him despite the No. 4 machine appearing to be the faster car many of the final laps. Harvick still is in good standing in the playoffs, however, and he's won three times at Texas. All of those wins came in the last six visits to the track, too. He hasn't finished lower than 10th there since 2014, the year he won the championship with Stewart-Haas Racing. 

Chase Elliott – Elliott had the early speed Sunday at Kansas Speedway. The Hendrick Motorsports driver started from pole and then regained the lead – after William Byron used a two-tire stop to get out front – and Elliott went on to win the opening stage. A faulty radio left him unable to hear his crew, however. That glitch left him unable to hear Alan Gustafson telling him to stay out under the second-stage caution. He pitted, which was a missed opportunity to gain track position for the remainder of the stage. Luckily, plenty of distance remained to recover and that he did. By the finish, the No. 9 climbed all the way back to land a sixth-place finish for a nice start to this penultimate round of eliminations. Elliott has five top-10 finishes from nine career Texas starts but hasn't had one there since 2018.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin got out front after a second stage restart and then held off Kevin Harvick to win the second segment. That speed ended in the final stage when he brushed the wall and was forced to pit to do immediate repairs. He returned to the track a lap down to the leaders but took the wave around and earned the lucky dog to get back to the lead lap in the final 50 laps. It was too little too late, unfortunately. By the time the checkered flag waved, Hamlin had only picked his way through the traffic to 15th position. With that disappointing finish, he now sits just 20 points above the cut line with two races remaining to claim a spot in the Phoenix finale. Hamlin has three Texas wins and led 11 laps there earlier this season before spinning late in the race and finishing 20th. 

Alex Bowman – Bowman turned in a decent performance in the first race of the round of eight. The playoff contender entered the race below the cutline but gained some confidence knowing he can race with the best after a third-place showing. Bowman wasn't just a quiet top-five finisher either. In the final laps he came on strong, passing Brad Keselowski and nearly winning the battle for the lead. One mistake by Harvick and Logano racing one another could have opened the door for the No. 88 to slip through and score an upset win. Performances just like that will turn into wins if they continue, and Bowman continues to build credibility with fans who know he can continue stepping forward. Fantasy players will be curious to see what he can do this week, however. Bowman has just one top-10 at Texas, which was a fifth-place finish in last year's race.

DOWNGRADE

Kurt Busch – Playoff contender Busch missed out on points in the first stage on Sunday and then finished ninth in the second. Things got much worse in the final stage when his car suddenly began losing power. He and the team spent several laps cycling the dash for information to help before the engine gave up in a plume of smoke. It was a shame for Busch who appeared to have a car capable of scoring a top-10 finish before he dropped out of the race completely. Not many expected him to be in this round of the playoffs, and now he must race to win the next two weeks in order to advance to the Phoenix finale. Busch won at Texas in 2009 and hasn't finished outside of the top 10 in his last seven visits.

Erik Jones – Jones came alive once the playoffs got underway but he wasn't one of the championship contenders. He failed to finish in the top 10 in just one playoff race prior to Sunday's visit to Kansas, but early damage to the front of his car stacked the deck against his chances of being able to continue that streak. In the final stage, a brush with the outside wall that caused an unplanned trip to pit road left him with no chance of extending that run of good form. There still has been no news about Jones and where he may race next season. With just three races to prove to team owners that they should hire him, he has to overcome the past week's disappointment. Up next is Texas where he has six top-10 finishes from eight series starts.

Tyler Reddick – Contact with the outside wall sent Reddick to pit road with right-side damage, bringing out the yellow flag with less than 50 laps remaining in Sunday's race. The rookie driver had two top-10s and three top-15s in the five races leading up to the trip to Kansas Speedway. He has frequently shown speed this season but continues to be rather inconsistent in his results. Fantasy players could ride his upside potential nearly any week, but that momentum comes with risk, as he can have an incident like last week, which drops him down the finishing order despite having a quick car. Consistency should come with more experience, though. He should have great memories of his last visit to Texas, too. He finished second, his best result of the season, after starting 24th. 

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer's last visit to his home track in the Cup Series did not pan out the way he would have hoped. After announcing earlier in the week that he would retire from full-time racing at the end of the season in favor of moving to a broadcast position, he drove to a disappointing 26th-place finish a lap off of the lead. Bowyer has had a career to be proud of in the Cup Series with 10 career victories and a highest championship finish of second in 2012. The good news for fans is that they will get to enjoy more of Bowyer's humor and perspective on television than they've been able to get with him inside the car. He also has three more races to add to his career totals. At Texas he has two runner-up finishes and 12 top-10s from 29 career starts.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Christopher Bell – While everyone's focus was on the battle at the front of the field, Christopher Bell quietly worked his way to a 10th-place finish. He was 13th in the first two stages and climbed a few spots further before the end to score his sixth top-10 of the season. It was his best finish since before the All-Star Race, too. Bell's rookie season hasn't had the same flash as Cole Custer's and his trip to Victory Lane, but he is doing a veteran's job considering the equipment he has. Partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing certainly helps Leavine Family Racing punch above its weight, but it also takes a capable driver to get the most out of the machinery. Bell has earned a step into the formal JGR organization for next season, and races like Sunday's are exactly why.

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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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