KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Joey Logano hopped out of his car and jokingly thanked his Penske Racing team for all the wise adjustments that they made before he qualified on the pole for Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
The truth was they changed absolutely nothing.
“We made zero changes from the time we unloaded to qualifying,” Logano said after his lap of 191.646 mph landed him on the pole. “They did a great job of preparing the car.”
Logano heads into the final race before the playoff field is cut from 12 to eight with a 39-point buffer, so it wasn’t as if he was in trouble. But starting up front allows him to chase stage points early and that could eliminate some of the pressure later in the race.
“It helps a little bit. We want to be able to score some stage points to start,” he said, “but hopefully we don’t have to worry about points and we can just go win the race.”
Kevin Harvick is in similar shape after qualifying second Friday, while fellow playoff drivers Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rounded out qualifying’s top five.
Keselowski is the first driver outside the playoff cutoff.
Kyle Busch, who sits between Harvick and Logano in the playoffs, will start sixth after a solid effort at a track he’s slowly grown to love. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are on the bubble, and the Kansas native will start 14th while the reigning series champion will start 12th.
Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10, while Kyle Larson crashed his primary car in practice and officially qualified 27th, though he’ll be sent to the back on Sunday.
“I think we’ll be fine. Our cars are always good here when we come to Kansas,” Larson said. “I wish we didn’t wreck our primary car. Our primary car is usually better. But we’ll be fine.”
Larson’s other loss
Larson lost an appeal Friday of his 10-point penalty from Talladega, where NASCAR found his team used unapproved pieces to fix some damage. Larson figured he needed to win at Kansas anyway to advance in the playoffs, so he was more miffed over his practice crash than the penalty.
“I’ve had a backup car here before and been really fast,” he said.
Race to win
Chase Elliott has already advanced from his win at Dover, but he was still upset by failing to make the final round of qualifying.
“To me this is a test this weekend to see how you’re going to be on the mile-and-a-halfs the rest of the season,” said Elliott, who will start 13th. “If you struggle this weekend you probably have your work cut out for you.”
Keselowski and Blaney are the top two drivers outside the playoff cutoff, and both drive for Roger Penske. But that doesn’t mean things are awkward between them.
“We don’t quiz each other before any week, whether it’s the second race of the year or this week,” Blaney said. “We just talk between teams, try to work together the best you can.”
Bowyer is seventh in the playoff standings, and he looked like he’d be starting up front after leading the first qualifying round. But he failed to survive the second round, and now his hopes of winning at what he considers his home track are a bit murkier.
Almirola continued his hot streak from last week’s win at Talladega, leading the second round of qualifying before finishing third in the final round.
“We’re literally racing for a championship all the way to the end of the year,” he said. “That’s an incredible feeling.”