Topsy-turvy af­ter­noon tight­ens play­off pic­ture

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer AP Auto Rac­ing Writer

It should have been cat­a­strophic nearly any way Joey Logano looked at his sit­u­a­tion. His wrecked race car was in the garage dur­ing the open­ing race of the se­cond round of the play­offs, his crew fran­ti­cally try­ing to get him back on track.

CONCORD, N.C. >> It should have been cat­a­strophic nearly any way Joey Logano looked at his sit­u­a­tion. His wrecked race car was in the garage dur­ing the open­ing race of the se­cond round of the play­offs, his crew fran­ti­cally try­ing to get him back on track. At the mo­ment, Logano’s only sav­ing grace was that Kevin Har­vick had his own dis­abled ve­hi­cle and was stuck watch­ing Sun­day’s race at Charlotte Mo­tor Speed­way roll on with­out them.

Then Austin Dil­lon wrecked, Chase El­liott, too. Denny Ham­lin lost an en­gine and Martin Truex Jr. had a pit road mis­cue.

In all, five driv­ers fin­ished 30th or worse Sun­day, mean­ing the field re­mained bunched enough that ev­ery­one has an equal shot to re­cover. There are two more races, at Kansas and Tal­ladega, be­fore this field of 12 is whit­tled to eight, and only eight points sep­a­rate Ham­lin, in the cut­off po­si­tion, from Har­vick, who is last in the stand­ings. Logano, who got back on track to fin­ish 36th, is two points ahead of Har­vick and only six be­hind Ham­lin. “I feel bet­ter about it,” Logano said of the stand­ings. “My team did a good job fight­ing to get back out there and I think we gained two points by do­ing that, and that could be the dif­fer­ence when it’s all said and done.” No one was im­mune Sun­day, not Chevro­let, Ford or Toy­ota. The long­shots Dil­lon and El­liott were wrecked, the fa­vorites Har­vick and Logano fallen by bro­ken parts or tire is­sues. The big win­ner? Why, Jim­mie John­son, who sud­denly has a record­ty­ing sev­enth cham­pi­onship in reach. Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports has been un­der­whelm­ing this year, John­son stuck in a 24-race los­ing streak. This Chase so far had been a Truex and Har­vick show, John­son just the driver of a car that seemed to have some speed but was no ul­ti­mate match with the oth­ers. His win Sun­day showed other­wise, and he stamped his name into the third round of the play­offs. John­son had failed to ad­vance to the round of eight each of the last two years, but he’s got his slot now, and that’s the first step in win­ning that elu­sive sev­enth ti­tle.

He sounded hun­gry af­ter the race, his eighth win at Charlotte and 78th of his ca­reer.

“We can’t sit back and cel­e­brate too much,” John­son said. “We’ve got to buckle down and get to work and keep ad­vanc­ing our race cars.”

DOU­BLE-HEADER

The race was orig­i­nally sched­uled to run Satur­day night, but Hurricane Matthew washed out al­most the en­tire week­end. So all rac­ing was pushed to Sun­day, which turned into an 800mile dou­ble­header with the Xfin­ity Se­ries. Logano went on to win the Xfin­ity Se­ries race, which was the elim­i­nat­ing event in the in­au­gu­ral Chase for that se­ries. Ty Dil­lon was knocked out by Bubba Wallace by one point, and Brennan Poole, Ryan Sieg and Bran­don Jones were also elim­i­nated.

The se­cond round of the Chase is a re­prieve for Erik Jones, the pre-play­off fa­vorite who fell into a deep hole in the open­ing race and is now back to even.

KENSETH TO KANSAS

Matt Kenseth left Charlotte on solid foot­ing for the first time in the elim­i­na­tion sys­tem via a se­cond-place fin­ish to John­son.

The stop in Charlotte had been his down­fall the last two years. He tack­led Brad Ke­selowski in the garage fol­low­ing a dis­ap­point­ing fin­ish in 2014.

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