Logano Punches Ticket; Playoff Odds Shift at Martinsville
Joey Logano dominated much of last week's race at Martinsville, but was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 2 laps to go. But he bumped Truex Jr. out of the way to win and be the first to punch his ticket into the Championship Four.
Logano entered the Round of 8 with 8-1 odds to win the Cup Series championship, the 5th-best among the remaining drivers, but now he's up to the 3rd-best odds at 11-4. The big loser in the odds was Chase Elliott, who dropped from 5-1 to 12-1.
With the victory, Logano guarantees that he'll be 1 of the 4 drivers racing for a championship in the season finale at Homestead. It's the 3rd time in the 5 years in this format that he's been a part of the "Championship 4," joining Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as drivers to be a part of the round at least 3 times (both can reach their 4th this year, and Martin Truex Jr. can also reach his 3rd)
After teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney were eliminated in the last round, Logano gets a shot to give Team Penske its 2nd Cup Series championship, joining Keselowski in 2012.
Joey Logano is in his 10th full Cup Series season, but he's just 28 years old. Last week was his 20th career win, but given how young he was entering the series, he's the 4th-youngest driver at the time of his 20th Cup win.
Harvick Not So Happy on the Bubble?
After putting together 7 wins in the regular season, Kevin Harvick is winless in the 7 playoff races so far, with just 1 top-5 finish. He's coming off finishes of 28th at Talladega, 12th and Kansas and 10th at Martinsville. And while he has a 25-point cushion on 5th-place Kurt Busch, Harvick is in line to be the first driver bumped if somebody 5th-8th in points wins.
Harvick's season got off to a blazing start, with 3 wins in the first 4 races, and 5 wins in the first 12 races of the season. Usually, that's a precursor to winning the title.
But Harvick could get back in his groove as the series rolls into Texas, a 1.5-mile track where he won last November. Over the last 5 seasons, since Harvick moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, no driver has led as many laps on 1.5-mile tracks as Harvick.
Could Controversy Travel to Texas?
The Logano-Truex finish at Martinsville was controversial, but Texas has also been the site of controversies in playoff races over the past several years.
InPlay: Drivers Losing Their Cool at Texas
• November 2010: Jeff Burton inexplicably puts Jeff Gordon into the wall well after a caution had come out. After Gordon climbed out of his car, he walked all the way down the backstretch and shoved Burton. Burton shoves back as the 2 shouted at each other.
• November 2010: Kyle Busch was tabbed for speeding on a pit stop, and in frustration, he gives first 1, then 2 middle fingers to a NASCAR official while being held on pit road. He was attempting to stay ahead of the pace car after a wreck.
• November 2014: After late-race contact that cut down his tire, Jeff Gordon confronts Brad Keselowski (who was also shoved by Kevin Harvick), leading to a massive brawl involving many crew members. Gordon and Keselowski ended up bloody.
There's been an uptick in exciting finishes during the Playoffs. 3 of the last 5 races have been decided by a last-lap pass, the first time that's happened in the Cup Series since March-April 2014.
Down to the Wire - Last-Lap Passes for Win in Last 5 Races
• Oct. 28 at Martinsville: Joey Logano bumps Martin Truex Jr. out of way on final lap
• Oct. 14 at Talladega: Aric Almirola passes teammate Kurt Busch on final lap after Busch runs out of fuel
• Sept. 30 at Charlotte: After Jimmie Johnson spins Martin Truex Jr. racing for lead, Ryan Blaney comes from 3rd to win on final lap
Chase Elliott Tries to Bounce Back at Texas
Chase Elliott finished a respectable 7th at Martinsville. But Joey Logano's win, paired with the fact that he entered the round at least 20 points behind Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick, means that Elliott is 31 points from the Championship Round cutoff.
But Elliott is heading to Texas, where in 5 starts he's never finished worse than 11th, and his 7.4 average finish is the best mark all-time at the track.
Elliott is a 2-time winner already in these playoffs, the only driver with multiple wins so far in these playoffs. Each of the last 4 seasons, there has been a driver to reach 3 wins in the playoffs.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Texas
Kyle Busch (Gibbs): won at Texas earlier this season; trying to be 4th driver to sweep both races at Texas in a season (Jimmie Johnson, 2015; Denny Hamlin, 2010; Carl Edwards, 2008)
Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas): 8 straight top-10 finishes at Texas (defending playoff race winner); longest active streak at track
Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture R0w): 6 top-10 finishes in last 7 Texas races (8 in first 19 career races at track)
Chase Elliott (Hendrick): 7.4 Avg finish at Texas is best all-time at track
Joey Logano (Penske): finished 7th or better in last 5 and 9 of last 11 races at Texas
Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas): 14 straight races without top-5 finish at Texas (3 in 25 career starts at track)
Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas): 16 straight races without top-5 finish at Texas, despite winning pole in last 2 races
Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas): wrecked out at Texas in spring race; 10th straight finish outside top 10 at track
Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick): finished 27th and 35th in last 2 Texas races after winning 4 of previous 6 and 6 of last 10 races at track
Kyle Larson (Ganassi): wrecked out of last 2 Texas races (finished 37th and 36th)
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