Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – KANSAS CITY, KS – In any Playoff, says defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano, every driver will face a moment of truth.
Logano’s may have come on Monday at Talladega Superspeedway, where he recovered from early damage to finish 11th in a race that had devastating consequences for a handful of other title contenders.
Then again, the crucible for Logano may be Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Yes, Logano left Talladega holding the last Playoff-eligible position by 18 points over Alex Bowman, but, as others have learned, leads can be fleeting.
And if a driver in the bottom four happens to win on Sunday, Logano could be the odd man out. That’s why he’ll be trying to protect his advantage as well as trying to catch Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, whom he trails by two points, as insurance against a potential knockout blow.
“At some point, no matter what during these Playoffs, you will be in a do-or-die moment,” Logano said before Friday’s opening practice at Kansas. “Even if you have the most smooth nine races you can have, and you get to the Championship 4, when you go to Miami, it is do-or-die. You win or you are out. You will always be put in these situations, and I feel like as a team we’re pretty strong in these situations.
“I feel confident. I feel good about this week. I feel prepared and I feel like this is a good race track for us in the past. We’ve won a couple of times here. After Vegas… we had a really, really fast car there and a car capable of winning for sure. This is a similar race track to that now with this 550 (horsepower) package the way it is. I feel good about that. It’s still going to be a crazy race and going to be very intense on restarts.
“I think everyone, if you re-watch the race from the spring here, this is maybe one of the best races of the year now here in Kansas. The restarts are just insane, where everybody goes and tries to make passes on that curved front straightaway. It is going to be crazy for sure out there. You have to make sure you can control what you can control—the restarts and making sure you don’t get any damage and things like that. Outside of that, you just do your job, and you’ll be just fine.”
ALEX BOWMAN NEEDS ANOTHER RALLY TO ADVANCE IN CUP PLAYOFFS
With a second-place finish on Sept. 29 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Alex Bowman did just enough to advance to the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
But even if Bowman should match the runner-up result he posted in the spring in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), it might not be enough to stay in contention for the championship.
After wrecking out of last Monday’s rain-delayed race at Talladega, Bowman comes to the elimination race at Kansas 18 points below the cut line for the Round of 8 in the Playoffs and likely needing a victory to advance.
“I think if you had to pick a track for us to run well at and it wasn’t Chicago, it would probably be here,” said Bowman, who collected his first win in NASCAR’s premier series earlier this season at Chicagoland Speedway. “I feel like we’re really confident coming into here.
“But, at the same time, it’s just tough. We’re in a bigger hole than we were going into the ROVAL by quite a bit. We’re there against last year’s champion (Joey Logano); he’s the next guy in front of us. It’s going to be tough. To make it without a win, would take a lot to happen, I feel like. So we’re just focused on going out and hopefully getting a win.”
That doesn’t mean Bowman will try to change his approach at Kansas.
“I feel like when you try to step your game up or change what you’re doing, you end up making mistakes and not executing well,” Bowman said. “We’re kind of business as usual. Obviously, our 1.5-mile program is our strongest program. We were really strong here in the spring. I feel like we’ve only gotten stronger since then.
“We have a great race car here, and we just have to go execute. Obviously, it’s not an optimal point situation. But all we can do is all we can do. We’re pretty much in a must-win situation. That’s tough, but if we don’t make it, the sun is still going to come up on Monday. If we have a good day and still don’t make it, we were a Talladega away from making it. That’s just part of the sport.”
HAULER ACCIDENT DOESN’T SLOW NEW HIRE ROSS CHASTAIN
Talk about an up-and-down week.
On Tuesday, Kaulig Racing announced the signing of Ross Chastain to a full-time NASCAR Xfinity Series deal for the 2020 season.
Two days later, the Kaulig transporter carrying the No. 10 Chevrolet Chastain was to drive in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) wrecked in McDowell County in western North Carolina.
The primary race car was destroyed in the crash. Even though Chastain has run only four Xfinity races for Kaulig this season as he competes with Niece Motorsports for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series title, the team remained committed to getting him on the track at Kansas despite the setback.
Accordingly, Kaulig stepped up the work on the car intended for Texas Motor Speedway two weeks hence and brought it to Kansas for Chastain to drive.
“The terrible thing that happened two days ago doesn’t slow them down,” said Chastain, who will team with current Kaulig driver Justin Haley next year. “Our guys worked 30 some odd hours straight to get this car ready.”
The work was effective. Chastain was third fastest in opening Xfinity practice on Friday and seventh on the speed chart in the final session.