Pressure is off Joey Logano as NASCAR playoffs hit Texas with final four spots on the line

Joey Logano corrected himself nearly as quickly as he righted his car to secure both the win at Martinsville Speedway and a berth in the Championship 4 last Sunday.

“The pressure for those two races is off,” Logano told USA TODAY Sports. “Maybe, ‘the pressure is off’ is the wrong thing to say. It’s shifted to the one race for the big reward at the end.”

Logano became the first driver to lock up one of the four slots to compete for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship on Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his victory at Martinsville. The three other slots will be up for grabs over the next two races, the first coming Sunday at the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). 

Logano bumped reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. coming toward the checkered flag after the pair raced side-by-side on the previous lap. The collision spun out Truex's No. 78 Toyota, but Logano was able to keep his No. 22 Team Penske Ford under control enough for his first Martinsville win, second of the season and 20th of his Cup Career. 

Truex, who finished third behind Denny Hamlin, called the bump that knocked him out of the lead a “cheap shot” after the race. 

“That was the classic bump-and-run,” Logano said after the race. “That was the move that our sport and Martinsville in particular was built on.  I think I owe it to my race team to do everything I can to win a race, get another shot at winning a championship.  That's my job.”

Logano, 28, has now made the Championship 4 three times, although he was nowhere near it last year. He finished 17th in the standings and failed to make the playoffs when he was penalized after his lone 2017 victory — in the spring race at Richmond Raceway — was ruled ineligible for playoff consideration.

“The recovery really started at the end of last season and continued as this season kicked off,” Logano said. “I think we got locked into one way of doing things that worked in the past and we really didn’t want to change. That put us behind the learning curve.”

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