Joey Logano is quickly finding himself further and further outside the playoff field.
With five races to go until the Cup Series playoffs begin, Logano is 69 points outside of the playoffs after pit road trouble led to a 27th-place finish at Pocono.
When he pitted for (potentially) the final time with less than 40 laps to go in Sunday’s race, Logano was too fast entering pit road. Since the penalty happened while the race was green, Logano was forced to do a pass-through penalty on pit road.
As he came around to do his pass-through penalty, Logano locked up his brakes and flat-spotted his tires entering pit road. Crew chief Todd Gordon called him to pit to change tires. But a driver can’t pit when serving a pass-through penalty.
So Logano had to come to pit road for a third time to serve another pass-through penalty. The sequence ultimately dropped him down a lap. Logano scored 10 points while the man he’s chasing for the final spot in the playoffs, Matt Kenseth, finished ninth and scored 28.
If a driver wins a race and the first two stages within it, he or she receives 60 points. So the gap Logano now faces to Kenseth is larger than a race maximum with just five races to go until the playoffs begin.
Logano isn’t simply chasing Kenseth either. Clint Bowyer is currently the first driver out of the playoff field. Logano has to pass both of them on points or win a race over the next five to get in.
Kyle Busch’s win on Sunday made him the 13th driver to win a race in 2017 and left just three playoff spots available for drivers without wins. While that may seem like a big deal on the surface, it really isn’t. Busch entered Sunday’s race fourth in the points standings and the best winless driver throughout the first 20 races of the season.
The only way Busch was getting left out of the playoffs was if he and his team collapsed over the final six races of the season or four other drivers won races to lock winless drivers out of the playoffs entirely.
Here’s what the points standings among winless drivers looks like through 21 races. Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon all have wins and are either guarantees or virtual guarantees to make the playoff field.
While Logano won at Richmond earlier this season, his win was “encumbered” by NASCAR because his car failed post-race inspection. For NASCAR’s purposes, he’s considered a winless driver.
Provisionally in the playoffs:
Chase Elliott, 616 points
Jamie McMurray, 615 points
Matt Kenseth, 594 points
It’s still possible for Logano to point his way in to the playoffs, but he’s going to need Kenseth to have some bad luck soon. The simplest way is winning a race, but with seven laps led in the last 11 races, Logano hasn’t had that speed recently. His playoff hopes may be coming down to needing a repeat — and clean — win at Richmond.
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