Joey Logano in an­other rift

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - Sports - By STEPHEN HAWKINS

Joey Logano has again ar­rived at Texas in the mid­dle of a rift with an­other play­off con­tender af­ter some short-track shenani­gans. It all comes with the de­fend­ing NASCAR Cup cham­pion try­ing to lock in a spot for the cham­pi­onship fi­nale. A year ago, Martin Truex Jr. was up­set over Logano’s bump-and-run on the fi­nal lap at the half-mile Martinsvil­le Speed­way.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Joey Logano has again ar­rived at Texas in the mid­dle of a rift with an­other play­off con­tender af­ter some short-track shenani­gans.

It all comes with the de­fend­ing NASCAR Cup cham­pion try­ing to lock in a spot for the cham­pi­onship fi­nale.

A year ago, Martin Truex Jr. was up­set over Logano’s bump-and-run on the fi­nal lap at the half-mile Martinsvil­le Speed­way. Truex promised that the No. 22 Team Penske driver wouldn’t win the ti­tle, al­though it didn’t quite work out that way.

Fast for­ward to last week: Truex was cel­e­brat­ing his first vic­tory at the Vir­ginia track, with the 2017 Cup cham­pion se­cur­ing a spot in the fi­nal four for the Nov. 17 cham­pi­onship race, when Logano went to Denny Ham­lin on pit road to dis­cuss an on-track in­ci­dent.

That turned into a chaotic con­fronta­tion, with Logano smack­ing Ham­lin on the shoul­der be­fore one of Logano’s crew mem­bers yanked the ri­val driver to the ground.

“Yeah, I guess that means we are run­ning up front and rac­ing for wins,” Logano said about all of these squab­bles. “That is what that means. You are up there and try­ing to win. The mini dis­agree­ments are when you are run­ning 20th. If you are run­ning up front and in the top­five they be­come es­ca­lated.”

Logano is fourth in points go­ing into Sun­day’s race at the 1½-mile Texas track, trail­ing Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mates Truex, Ham­lin and Kyle Busch. Kevin Har­vick, Ryan Blaney — af­ter boldly dress­ing as Princess Leia for his Hal­loween party this week — Kyle Lar­son and hard-luck Chase El­liott are also still in play­off con­tention.

Har­vick won at Texas last fall, when he got past pole-sit­ter Blaney in over­time. Af­ter a good start to the play­offs this sea­son, rank­ing se­cond af­ter the first two races, Har­vick has slipped be­low the cut­line but will start on the pole af­ter a qual­i­fy­ing lap of 189.707 mph Satur­day night.

“We have done noth­ing but shoot our­selves in the foot that last few weeks,” said Har­vick, who fin­ished sev­enth last week. “We started last at Kansas and crashed at Tal­ladega and I don’t know what we did last week. I guess it was just typ­i­cal Martinsvil­le.”

Erik Jones, the Gibbs driver who is not in play­off con­tention, qual­i­fied se­cond and Ham­lin was third.

The other five driv­ers still try­ing to get one of the three re­main­ing cham­pi­onship-chas­ing spots in the Nov. 17 sea­son fi­nale qual­i­fied in a clump to­gether — in the 11th through 15th spots. Logano was 11th, ahead of Busch, Lar­son, El­liott and Blaney.

Five years re­moved from the only Cup ti­tle in his 19 sea­sons, Har­vick be­lieves the ex­pe­ri­ence of the No. 4 Ste­wart-Haas team has helped dur­ing the tough stretch.

“It has def­i­nitely been a fight every sin­gle week in or­der to get the fin­ishes that we have had and keep our­selves in con­tention,” he said. “I think for us the ex­pe­ri­ence and the con­ti­nu­ity of the race team and the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing around each other has al­lowed us to get the most out of ev­ery­thing that we’ve got.”

Ham­lin and Busch are three­time win­ners at Texas. Ham­lin, who won the spring race there seven months ago, won at Kansas two weeks ago. He was in the pre­vi­ous round of the play­offs, al­though that didn’t guar­an­tee him a chance to run for the ti­tle at Homestead on Nov. 17.

Busch has four wins this sea­son, but the last was five months ago at Po­cono. In the seven play­off races, he fin­ished 14th or worse for the fourth time last week.

As­so­ci­ated Press

RI­VALRY Joey Logano heads down the front stretch dur­ing prac­tice for the NASCAR Cup Se­ries auto race at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way in Forth Worth, Texas on Fri­day.

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