Joey Logano came in, straining for seven more in qualifying for the title

Joey Logano is in an enviable position.

As the only driver to have already secured a spot in next weekend’s NASCAR’s Cup Series championship finale, he will enter Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway with the lead in preparation for the finale at Phoenix Raceway.

However, seven others will battle it out for the final three spots at the premiere series’ oldest and shortest track, the 0.526-mile oval. Pitching has been tough in the spring and contact is a given and probably even more so at the highest stakes on the line.

“It’s a super tight battle for everyone, so when it comes down to the end of the race, we’ve seen it so many times, whether it’s for the win or that point they need to get out of turn four, we’ve seen I’ve had some big moments here where desperate people do desperate things and this is a track where desperate people have an opportunity to do a desperate thing,” said Logano, the 2018 champion. “I’m glad I’m not a part of that.”

Chase Elliott is the only other former champion still in the mix for this year’s title. He is third in points, eight behind Ross Chastain and six ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who won at Martinsville in the spring. Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe round out the field of contenders, with Hamlin likely having the edge.

He has won five times at Martinsville, but not since 2015, while Logano, Elliott and Byron have won more recently at the track. Byron will attempt to become the first driver to win both races in one season at Martinsville since Hamlin in 2010.

CHASING THE WIN

Chase Briscoe is last among the eight championship contenders, 63 points behind leader Logano. He almost needs to win at Martinsville to get to the title.

He’s not quite sure how this will affect his driving until the race starts.

“I think it’s hard to tell what you’re willing to do sitting here compared to where you are right now,” Briscoe said in the media center Saturday. “The emotions and the adrenaline, everything is completely different than when I’m sitting here. … I don’t know what you’re willing to do. I think it’s different for everyone and until you’re in that moment it’s hard to say. We just have to try to win.”

75 AND NUMBER

Martinsville is celebrating its 75th anniversary and track president Clay Campbell couldn’t be happier that it’s the final stop in the race to the championship final.

Like Richmond, which hosted its second weekend in beautiful weather rather than the sweltering mid-August heat typical of Virginia, Sunday’s forecast suggests it will be a good day to sit in the stands and celebrate the anniversary.

“I like where I’m at,” Campbell said of the track’s place on the schedule. “We’re in the 60s right now, about 70 degrees. So it’s a wonderful time for our area. And, you know, for it to be the penultimate race, I think it’s a great time of year.”

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AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports




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