BRISTOL, Tenn. — Two heavy hitters went down in the opening round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
For Logano, it means he won’t be the first driver since Jimmie Johnson (2009, 2010) to win back-to-back championships. For Harvick, it means he will end his NASCAR career with only one Cup title.
“I didn’t really have many expectations with how up and down the year has been,” Harvick said. “It is what it is, and that’s probably about what we deserved.”
Both drivers entered the race above the playoff cut line. Logano was 12 points over and Harvick was seven points to the good.
“I knew my situation and what I needed to do, but it’s Bristol and there’s not really many things you do differently depending on your scenario,” Logano said.
Given the resume of both drivers — especially at Bristol — it was hard to bet against either one. But neither car showed speed the entire weekend. In practice, Logano was 15th and Harvick was 19th. Harvick qualified 21st while Logano was 28th. Neither one was ever a threat for stage points, let alone the win.
Logano’s race came to an end just 262 laps of the 500-lap event. Right after a restart, Corey LaJoie spun out underneath Erik Jones. The No. 7 went down onto the apron before sliding back up the track and right into the left rear of Logano.
“If you don’t go fast enough, you’re in the back and they wreck in front at Bristol on a restart and you’re going so fast that you can’t woah up or turn or do anything and you get piledriven to the right,” Logano said. “It’s our own fault.”
The Team Penske crew tried to fix up the car, but Logano was out of the race, finishing 34th.
“Obviously, it’s a real bummer,” Logano said. “You get out of the race like that, and you’re behind the wall and you’re in denial for a minute. You don’t want to believe that it happened, and you want to think that it’s fixable, but the car was tore up too bad.”
Harvick didn’t have any issues, but the No. 4 car got lapped early and was eventually lapped five times.
“We’ve been like that all year,” Harvick said. “We’ve been hit or miss, and tonight we just missed by a mile.”
Harvick finished 29th in a race he won twice in the past seven years.
“I’ve had some good days and bad days, but that’s definitely the worst one I’ve had with fenders on it,” Harvick said.
Harvick’s elimination comes after finishes of 19th and 11th in the other two Round of 16 races.
“We were slow,” Harvick said about his Round of 16.
It’s the second year in a row Harvick failed to advance past the first round. This comes after he made the Championship 4 in five of the first six years of this playoff format.
As for Logano, he continues his trend of only making the Championship 4 in even-numbered years. This year marks the first time he has ever made the playoffs and failed to make it past the first round (he missed the playoffs in 2017). On Saturday, Logano became the first defending champion to not make it out of the Round of 16.
He finished 12th and fifth in the other two races of the Round of 16 but didn’t score a lot of stage points and finished better than the speed of his car.
“It takes something different out of a driver to drive a car in 15th, and tonight we weren’t even that,” Logano said. “It’s a little uncharacteristic for us right now, and we just have to go to work and keep our heads down and stay faithful in each other, keep trusting each other that we can figure it out.
“It’s still the same team that won the championship last year. We’re a little lost at the moment, but we’ll keep fighting and try to figure some things out.”
With his 23-year Cup career coming to a close, Harvick sets his sights on trying to add to his 60-career wins with just seven more chances, but he circles Phoenix Raceway as his best shot.
“I’m probably looking forward to Phoenix,” Harvick said. “I think that’s definitely been our best racetrack. We haven’t been great on the mile-and-a-halves, and tonight we were just way off.”
“It just seems like we’re off everywhere right now.”
“If we’re knocked out, it will give us a few races to swing big and try to figure it out for next year.
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.
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