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RICHMOND, Va. -- Joey Logano has never made the Chase and Brad Keselowski is the defending Cup champion, but going into the regular-season finale Saturday night, the teammates find their fortunes flip-flopped.
Logano, eighth in the standings with a win this season, very well might make the playoffs. Keselowski's chances are slim to none. He's 15th in the standings and winless.
|If the Chase began today, Joey Logano, right, would be a contender and defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski would be a spectator.|
But Keselowski is contributing to the Team Penske effort to repeat as champions by being Logano's biggest -- well, not exactly cheerleader, because there's no rah-rah, just matter-of-fact confidence in Logano to win the title if the youngster makes the Chase.
"Quite honestly, as it stands right now, with how he's run over the last six weeks, he would be my favorite to win the championship," Keselowski said. "He's definitely got the momentum. His team has got things going for them in so many different directions."
"We're coming off six straight top-10s, three straight top-5s," Logano concurred regarding his momentum. "We just have to do what we've been doing."
That includes a win at Michigan three weeks ago. And Logano had the dominant car at Atlanta last week, leading the most laps before getting shuffled back on a late restart and finishing second to Kyle Busch.
With the top six in the standings locked into the Chase -- which takes the top 10 in points plus two wild cards -- Logano stands second among the 11 drivers vying for berths, a notch below Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is seventh in the standings but winless this year.
Realistically, you can narrow to eight the number of drivers with fighting chances. Then there's Keselowski, ninth among those still contending, with only a glimmer of hope, and only by winning the race.
So deflated has he been since his Ford blew an engine while leading at Atlanta that "I haven't put too much thought into the actual race [here], other than just going out to win it," Keselowski said, "because that's probably the only thing that's going to matter for us.
"Even that might not be enough," Keselowski conceded. But, "If you win it, you've done all you can do."
But for Logano, 23, who arrived in Cup five years ago billed as a prodigy nicknamed "Sliced Bread" and who essentially has been disappointing and disappointed until this recent surge, well …
"It's huge. It's huge," Logano said. "To be sitting in the seat we're in right now, that's pretty good, considering all the things we've gone through. So I'm proud of that, no matter what happens."
If he makes the Chase, "I'd be pretty stoked," he said. "It's going to be a helluva party."
Yet with all those bumps in his young career, he might not know what to drink.
"I don't know, milk and cookies or something for me," Logano said. "I don't know how to party. Somebody has to teach me."
Keselowski should be a pretty good coach, considering his notoriety for chugging Miller Lite in Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami last year to celebrate his championship.
This is as near as Logano has been to fulfilling the enormous billing of 2009.
Since then, after the Richmond finale was over and the Chase field was set, "I've come up short every time," Logano said. "This is my big shot so far in my career."
The most intense scramble for berths Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC) is likely to take place among drivers who are below eighth-place Logano and ninth-place Greg Biffle, who also has a win. Kurt Busch, 10th, just above the cutoff for straight-up qualification on points, is six points ahead of 11th-place Jeff Gordon. Kasey Kahne is 12th but has two wins. Next are Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman, each with a win.
Believe it or not, Gordon goes into this race a lot more at ease than he did last year, when he fell a lap down, sat through a rain delay, adjusted his car and flew late -- and wound up second in the race to make the Chase by a single point.
"After last year, this is going to be easy," said Gordon, who'll start on the pole alongside Kurt Busch. "I think we were in a tougher spot last year than we are this year."
The situation is simple enough that "it allows us to be more relaxed, be more prepared, knowing that you've got to race as hard as you can 'til the final lap, 'til you cross that start-finish line," Gordon said.
"It can change every split second."
That's about the size of it, every September at Richmond, on the threshold of the Chase.