BRISTOL, Tenn. — Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano and 2014 title winner Kevin Harvick were eliminated from the NASCAR Playoffs following Saturday‘s Bass Pro Shops Bristol Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Logano, the two-time series title winner, was ousted from the 500-lap contest just past halfway when Corey LaJoie spun sideways at Lap 262. LaJoie lost control of his No. 7 Chevrolet on corner exit and slid into the inside SAFER barrier. He careened back into traffic, leading him into the path of Logano and others.
Logano went to pit road for further assessment before officially exiting the race. Unable to gain any more points, Logano was forced to watch the race from the sidelines and hope. But with his 34th-place finish, he became the first reigning champion to be eliminated in the postseason’s opening round. Heading into Saturday’s race, Logano was 11th in the playoff standings, 12 points above the elimination line.
“I saw the smoke. I saw 7 (LaJoie) spinning,” Logano told reporters at the infield care center. “And Coleman (Pressley, spotter) was saying he’s coming up, he’s coming up. As I was on the brakes to try to pull onto the bottom, I think it was Newman behind me, but I think someone hit him behind him and just kind of chain reaction to it. And so once he got hit, I said oh shoot, I gotta go up now. I couldn’t make the bottom, so I committed to that. And the hole closed up.”
Logano finished 12th in the postseason opener at Darlington Raceway and fifth at Kansas Speedway. A late caution at Kansas allowed crew chief Paul Wolfe to execute a two-tire pit strategy when the No. 22 team was only one point above the provisional elimination line — rocketing Logano to a 12-point cushion instead by the checkered flag in Kansas.
In the end, that margin simply wasn‘t enough. Logano, who netted an Atlanta win in addition to nine top fives and 14 top 10s in the opening 29 races, was four points short of advancing to the Round of 12.
“Not as good as we needed to be,” Logano said of his season to date. “Inconsistent. Not fast enough, not scoring stage points. When you don’t score stage points, that just says you‘re not fast enough. We’ve been able to manufacture finishes like we did last week and Paul does a great job at giving me a chance to finish good. If this was a few years ago and it wasn’t stage racing, we would be sitting in a lot better shape because we figure out a way to close races. But we don’t score the points during the race because we‘re just not fast enough.”
Also ousted by four points was Harvick. While Logano was collected in an on-track incident, Harvick was simply unable to find the balance in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at Bristol. The sport’s longest-tenured full-time driver is now out of title contention in his final season, a 29th-place finish five laps off the pace; the exclamation point on a difficult round that featured results of 19th at Darlington and 11th at Kansas.
“There wasn‘t a flash of brilliance from the time we took it off the truck,” Harvick said.
Harvick‘s 23-year Cup Series career comes to a close at the conclusion of November‘s championship race. Six top fives and 12 top 10s in 29 races in uncharacteristic of the success he and crew chief Rodney Childers have parsed together in their nine prior seasons — a resume stacked with 37 wins and a memorable title run in addition to the 23 victories Harvick collected at Richard Childress Racing.
He was firmly in contention to win the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington to open the playoffs until an untimely caution — Ryan Newman spun as leader Tyler Reddick attempted to pit in a late reaction to Harvick‘s strategy — took Harvick out of contention.
“We could have won Darlington. We were off at Kansas and terrible here,” Harvick said.
“We‘ve been hit or miss all year,” he added. “Off and on.”
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs continue at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) but without the wealth of experience Logano and Harvick bring to the postseason.