Rac­ing oval turned into squared cir­cle again

Logano in­volves him­self in yet an­other post-race tus­sle

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - By Stephen Hawkins

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Joey Logano has again ar­rived in 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 hav­ing se­cured a spot in the fi­nal four for the Nov. 17 cham­pi­onship race. 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 top five they be­come es­ca­lated.”

Logano is fourth in points go­ing into Sun­day’s race at the 1 ⁄ -mile Texas track, 1

2 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.

“We have done noth­ing but shoot our­selves in the foot that last few weeks,” said Har­vick, who was 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.”

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 three-time 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.

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