Coming into 2017, Joey Logano was among the championship favorites, after finishing runner-up in 2016 to Jimmie Johnson. But with one race remaining until the postseason kicks off at Chicagoland Speedway, the No. 22 crew is in a must-win situation.
Logano heads to Richmond Raceway, the site of his last Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory 19th on the playoff grid, more than two full races behind the cutoff. In April, the No. 22 car started from the rear en route to his first and only victory of the season, leading 25 laps.
On Wednesday of the following week, the victory was deemed “encumbered” by NASCAR standards for having a rear suspension violation. Since then, 16 races have come and gone with Logano posting three top-10 finishes, leading only 17 laps. That’s after a stretch of eight top 10s in the opening nine races of the season.
In the past, Logano has been in a similar situation throughout the playoffs, needing to win. Last season, he won at Phoenix International Raceway, advancing to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Had he finished second, the No. 22 would have been eliminated from title contention.
Because of that, he’s confident, though 2017 has been a rough season.
“It will be huge for a lot of different reasons,” Logano said on potentially getting a victory. “We are in a do-or-die situation. Anytime you can win a race in that situation, there is no better feeling than that. Also returning here after our win in the spring and obviously the drama that followed, it would be very nice to be able to get back in Victory Lane and prove a point.
“I don’t see any reason why we can’t. We had great pit stops last week [at Darlington Raceway]. We went for it on the strategy and it didn’t work out but we have to. That is the situation. Second place is a failure when you look at the goal this week. It is win or nothing. We have to race that way.”
While the No. 22 team has struggled in race conditions over the summer months, Logano has still qualified well, meaning that there is speed in the car for at least one lap. Since the second half of the regular season kicked off at Pocono Raceway in June, he has a worst starting position of 18th coming at Sonoma Raceway, one of the two road courses on the schedule.
Because Logano is the last driver to experience triumph at Richmond, he is fully confident with the speed, at least in his short track cars.
“We know that the only option is to win,” Logano said. “Have our cars been off a little compared to where they have been in past years? Yes. I would be lying if I said they weren’t. Richmond is one of those places where we can carry some speed.
“I was watching the spring race on the way up here. We had a good car. Brad [Keselowski] had a really fast car and we battled up front for the win and finished 1-2. That wasn’t that long ago. This is a short track which seems to kind of mask some of the challenges we have had with our cars. When I look at those things I feel confident that this is a racetrack that if we do everything right, it won’t be easy by any means, but if we do everything right we can squeak one out.”
While the summer months have been rough for Logano, he has proven over the past three seasons that once the playoffs come around the No. 22 peaks. Last season, he entered the playoffs with one victory, picking up two in the postseason. He also won a pair of races during the final 10 races in 2014, and swept the second round in 2015.
Logano thinks that if he can get in, he has a fighters chance at conquering his first Cup Series title.
“I feel like we can get there,” he said. “Do I think we are there right now? Obviously not. We aren’t even in the playoffs. I wouldn’t say we are at that spot. I have seen this sport go through big swings within the period of four or five races where all of a sudden other cars get super fast and the fast cars kind of fall off. It is all about the timing.”