While any of the 16 drivers competing in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup theoretically could become this year's champion, realistically there are half a dozen of so among them who are considered legitimate favorites.
One of them is Joey Logano, who is enjoying a breakthrough year in this, his second season with Team Penske. Logano enters this year's Chase with three victories, which in essence ties him for second seed with the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
The only driver with more than three victories is Logano's teammate, Brad Keselowski, who has four. Logano heads into Sunday's MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on a major hot streak. He has the best average finish (6.0) of any Chase driver over the last five races and the best (10.4) over the last 10 races as well.
On the other hand, Logano's stats at Chicagoland are less than stellar: Seven starts, a best finish of seventh two years ago -- his only top 10 here -- and an average finish of 19.400. Still, Logano is optimistic and seeing some of the same challengers as the pundits are -- namely the Penske and Hendrick squads.
Thursday in Chicago during NASCAR's Chase Media Day, Logano's picks for the top threats to win it all were hardly surprising. Asked who he'd pick if the champion wasn't him, Logano said he liked his teammate.
"If not me I would hope Brad does but I am focused on my own thing," said Logano. "I know my teammate has the ability and I know our car definitely does."
Logano knows the Hendrick drivers will be tough, too.
"I would think the guys you have seen all year, you can never count the 48 (Johnson) out right?" Logano opined. "The 24 (Gordon), the 88 (Earnhardt) possibly and the 4 (Harvick). You never know. The thing is you can't count anybody out of this thing. You never underestimate your competition and that is everybody in this Chase and everybody racing that isn't in the Chase."
Indeed, the element of unpredictability is something that Logano is paying attention two as he enters his second Chase.
"You never know what is going to happen," said Logano. "That is why you have to work as hard as you can. You never are perfect and never where you want to be in racing and that is what keeps you driven to be better. You are always trying to get better and it is a lot of fun doing that. Especially when this Chase starts I want to pick it up a notch."
Last year, Logano finished eighth in points, his best finish to date in his first five seasons in NASCAR's top division. This year, the target is much higher: Win it all. Logano said he and the team are ready.
"We need to hit these next 10 races hard," said Logano. "I feel a lot more confident this time than last year in my team and myself. We've had a chance to rest up and be ready for this and we will hit this as hard as we can and take it one week at a time and decide how hard we need to run and how important a win is or how important a consistent finish is depending on how we run the previous race."
And for the Chase opener this weekend, it's all a matter of getting it done.
"We will go out there this weekend and try for the best finish we possibly can, if it is a first place we will take it and if not we will try for a solid top-five or top-10 and move on to New Hampshire."
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