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Coca-Cola 600: Logano a top contender for the pole

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
NASCAR_FRIDAY_06
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) laughs during a break prior to practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, NC on Friday, May 16, 2014.

CONCORD There is no question Joey Logano should be considered a top contender to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 given his performance this season.

There’s also good reason to believe he’ll be in the mix to win the pole when the Cup series’ knockout qualifying debuts Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7:10 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

Logano’s two victories in the season’s first 11 races already have him in prime position to challenge for this season’s championship.

He and Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski have also been near masters so far of the new knockout qualifying sessions, which utilize two or three rounds (depending on track size) to determine the starting order.

Of the 10 knockout sessions this season, only at Martinsville, Va., and Talladega, Ala., have neither Logano or Keselowski earned a front row starting position.

“We are qualifying well,” said Logano, who has three top-five and six top-10 finishes in 10 career Cup starts at Charlotte. “If you count out the restrictor-plate stuff, we are still the only car to make it through every session, and we are proud of that.”

Under the new format, on tracks of 1.25 miles or longer, all cars will attempt qualifying laps for up to 25 minutes, with the top 24 based on fastest laps advancing for a subsequent 10-minute session.

The top 12 from that group advance to the final, five-minute round.

With two wins already this season – a career-best – Logano said there is even more incentive to want to visit Victory Lane this weekend.

“It’s kind of everyone’s home track. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows that most race teams are here,” he said. “Your friends go out there. So, it makes it a really big deal to win.

“Also it’s the Coke 600; it’s one of the crown jewel events that we have, which makes it a big deal.”

The 600-mile length of this week’s race doesn’t worry Logano.

“It’s the longest race we have of the year, and it feels like it, believe me. But it definitely makes it very rewarding,” he said. “Now, if we had to run 600 miles every week, I may have a different answer for you.

“Obviously mentally it’s very straining because you’re in (the car) for four-plus hours running 600 miles, running 200 miles an hour. Definitely it’s mentally straining, and it’s very hot in these cars, especially when you do this in the middle of the summer.

“And it’s not just the drivers; it’s obviously the car, the motor, putting an extra 100 miles on that you typically don’t in a normal race weekend – it all makes it a lot tougher.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.
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