By Mary Cunningham
Kyle Busch’s victory at Pocono Raceway yesterday didn’t mint him as any more of a threat to win a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
He’d raced well enough this season to have a half dozen trophies by now.
He already was safely tucked inside the 16-driver playoff envelope by virtue of his standing in points with six races left in the regular season. And, even though his paucity of playoff points could have been a “colossal” disadvantage, crew chief Adam Stevens said, Busch is a spree winner who now has won a Cup race at every active NASCAR track except Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He could auto-advance his way through elimination rounds to the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway even as Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson have separated themselves atop the standings with three and two wins, respectively, for much of the regular season.
“I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for itself,” Busch said. “Those guys have just been able to capitalize on race victories, and that’s what we’ve not been able to capitalize on.
“We’re not all that flashy, but when our backs are against the wall — we haven’t necessarily had that situation thankfully, had to go out there and win in those playoff instances like some of these other teams have. (Kevin Harvick) has been able to do it, (Truex) has been able to do it, a couple other guys.
“But we just methodically go about our races, and that’s our mentality. And when it works for us, we go to victory lane, and that’s how we get to Homestead.”
Joey Logano’s route there feels almost untenable after he finished 27th. He’s 69 points behind Matt Kenseth, who holds the last points transfer slot. This admittedly stuns the 2016 series runner-up after he began the season with a win, six top-fives and eight top-10s in the first nine races.
His playoff ticket was confiscated by NASCAR after officials discovered a post-race penalty following his win at Richmond Raceway this spring, making his finish “encumbered” or not valid for playoff qualification. A slog of uncharacteristically poor results followed — none of which, Gordon asserts, had anything to do with the penalty — and Logano slumped outside of the points transfer zone so far that another victory is his only chance to undertake the 10-race title hunt for a fifth consecutive season.
Logano, too, could win almost anywhere, if his Fords become fast enough again after a rules change Gordon said hampered them. This could all be turned around immediately at Watkins Glen International — as it might have been after he finished fourth in Indianapolis last week — but the gloom Logano displayed Sunday underscored the team’s plight.
Yesterday it was a spate of mistakes that will be certain to rankle detail-oriented team owner Roger Penske. With Logano racing in or on the edge of the top-10 with 35 laps left, he committed a pit road speeding penalty, smoked his tires attempting not to incur another on the pass-through and was sanctioned again when Gordon violated a rule barring service while serving penalties by having Logano’s tires changed. Another pass-through followed. Gordon keyed “My bad” on the team radio.