Kansas City, Kan. — Joey Logano hopped out of his car and jokingly thanked his Penske Racing team for all the wise adjustments that they made before he qualified on the pole for Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
The truth was they changed absolutely nothing.
“We made zero changes from the time we unloaded to qualifying,” Logano said after his lap of 191.646 mph landed him on the pole. “They did a great job of preparing the car.”
Logano heads into the final race before the playoff field is cut from 12 to eight with a 39-point buffer, so it wasn’t as if he was in trouble. But starting up front allows him to chase stage points early and that could eliminate some of the pressure later in the race.
“It helps a little bit. We want to be able to score some stage points to start,” he said, “but hopefully we don’t have to worry about points and we can just go win the race.”
Kevin Harvick is in similar shape after qualifying second Friday, while fellow playoff drivers Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) rounded out qualifying’s top five.
Keselowski is the first driver outside the playoff cutoff.
Kyle Busch, who sits between Harvick and Logano in the playoffs, will start sixth after a solid effort at a track he’s slowly grown to love. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. are on the bubble, and the Kansas native will start 14th while the reigning series champion will start 12th.
Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10, while Kyle Larson crashed his primary car in practice and officially qualified 27th, though he’ll be sent to the back on Sunday.
“I think we’ll be fine. Our cars are always good here when we come to Kansas,” Larson said. “I wish we didn’t wreck our primary car. Our primary car is usually better. But we’ll be fine.”
Kyle Larson’s appeal of a rules violation from last week’s race at Talladega was denied, a blow to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s chances of advancing in NASCAR’s playoffs.
Larson was docked 10 points, crew chief Chad Johnston fined $25,000 and car chief David Bryant was suspended for Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway after officials determined the team used unapproved metal tabs in violation of NASCAR’s policy on damaged vehicles.
The penalty dropped Larson from 26 points behind the playoff cutoff to 36 points, meaning the elimination race at Kansas to trim the field to eight is practically a must-win for him.
“I don’t know much about the appeals stuff. I kind of just drive,” Larson said. “Obviously, a 10-point penalty doesn’t help, but I felt like with even being 26 points back we were going to have to go into this week and get a win to make the next round. So it doesn’t mean much to me.”
Now he’s going to have to win from the rear, too. Larson clipped the wall during practice and had to go to a backup car, which means he will be sent to the back after qualifying 27th.
His team’s expedited appeal was denied by the three-person panel of Chuck Deery, Dixon Johnston and Cathy Rice. Chip Ganassi Racing planned to make a final appeal, but Larson didn’t seem to care much whether the team was successful.
“I viewed this weekend before as we had to come in here and win,” he said.
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton’s fastest lap on a wet morning held up as the best of the day at U.S. Grand Prix practice in Austin, Texas.
The fading title hopes of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took a big hit when he was given a three-place starting grid penalty for driving too fast under a red flag in the morning. Vettel must win Sunday or finish within seven points of Hamilton to extend the championship to next week in Mexico City.
Hamilton was in dominant form in the soggy early practice. His lap of 1 minute, 47.502 seconds at the Circuit of the Americas was 1.3 seconds clear of teammate Valtteri Bottas. Vettel was fifth in the morning session.
Drivers stayed in the garage for most of the rain-soaked afternoon session. Hamilton only drove the last 8 minutes and couldn’t post a faster time. Vettel drove only the last 12 minutes.
More rain was expected Saturday. Local forecasts predict a dry race Sunday.