Joey Logano is back in charge of the Chase, but this time he has company at the top of the championship points standings. The Penske driver is tied in a dead heat with Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin, and yet both men know they could still easily miss out on making it into the final four line-up competing for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway in two weeks time.
Logano came into the Eliminator 8 round as the top seed having won races in both the previous rounds of the new-format Chase. Despite Texas being a happy hunting ground for him in the past, a win wasn't to be this weekend despite a strong run in the top ten for most of the day before an issue fitting a lugnut during a pit stop on lap 302 saw him tumble all the way back to 23rd place for the subsequent restart.
"We were able to salvage something decent out of tonight.," Logano said after the race. "We were a top five car and possibly a winning car if scenarios played out right. I don't know what happened with the glue on the pit stop and I haven't gotten the full story yet but we had a hell of a time trying to put rear tyres on the car.
"We lost all our track position with 30 to go and I came off the corner and the #9 [Marcos Ambrose] hit me and popped my right rear and then we spun out," continued Logano, explaining how he was then spun out at the subsequent restart.
"You have to expect that though when you put yourself back there with a few laps to go," he pointed out. "We put ourselves in a bad spot for something to happen. It is a snowball effect. We put ourselves in a bad spot and got in an even worse spot and then dug ourselves halfway out of a whole there.
"We put tyres back on it and then just held on till the end and got something decent out of something that could have been way worse," he summarised. "I am proud of everyone that kept their heads down and kept digging. That isn't the way we wanted to do it, that is for sure."
Logano is on 3072 points with one more race remaining at Phoenix before the final cut reduced the current eight Chase contenders down to the final four who will compete for the title at Homestead on November 16. That's equal with Hamlin, who led for three laps during the AAA Texas 500 but ultimately had to settle for a slightly disappointing tenth place at the chequered flag.
“We had a bad car," Hamlin insisted. "We made the best of it, other guys made mistakes. We weren't really that good - luckily other guys had problems. That's what happened."
Despite being in the points lead, both men are only two points ahead of the Mr Consistency of the Chase, Ryan Newman. And in total, only 18 points overs all eight drivers, so leading in the points is something of a hollow victory as it's clearly far too tight for anyone to feel confident about making it through.
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