Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

Logano: Solid NASCAR teams will miss the playoffs this year

Joey Logano won last weekend's race at Nashville Superspeedway and punched his ticket to the playoffs. Every Team Penske driver is now ready to chase a championship, something that Logano said was not a foregone conclusion in 2024.

"This NextGen car, I am telling you, it isn't like it used to be where you can just count on the Penske cars to be in the playoffs," Logano said Friday in Chicago. "There are really solid teams that are going to miss the playoffs this year.

"It is just what it is now with this NextGen car. It is hard to get a huge advantage and if you have a few things that just don't go your way time after time you find yourself behind the eight ball."

In years past, certain teams would send most -- if not all -- of their drivers to the playoffs. Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, and Team Penske primarily made up this group. Though Trackhouse Racing had both drivers in the playoffs in 2022.

Stewart-Haas Racing has struggled with consistency with its four-car stable, but the organization celebrated some big seasons in the Gen 6 era. Kevin Harvick winning nine races in 2020 served as a standout example.

The situation has changed in the Next Gen era for multiple reasons. Joe Gibbs Racing underwent a lineup change with Kyle Busch moving to Richard Childress Racing and Ty Gibbs moving to Cup. Gibbs won Rookie of the Year in 2023, but he has not yet celebrated a win.

Hendrick Motorsports only had two drivers in the playoffs last season -- Kyle Larson and William Byron. Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott both missed races due to injuries and they went winless.

All three Team Penske drivers were healthy last season, but only two made the playoffs. Austin Cindric struggled to contend for wins as a sophomore, and he finished 24th in the Cup standings.

Similarly, Ross Chastain was the only Trackhouse Racing driver to reach the playoffs last season. Daniel Suarez went winless and failed to compete for a championship.

Instead of Suarez and Cindric, the playoff field had Michael McDowell and Chris Buescher. These two drivers both returned to victory lane after snapping winless streaks.

"It is just different than it used to be where you would look at Hendrick, Gibbs, and Penske and on a bad day they would finish 10th to 12th," Logano added.

"Now on a bad day, you finish 25th, just off of raw speed. It is a different game than it used to be. Because of that there are more players in the game and it makes it harder to get through the rounds and get in the playoffs for sure."

To Logano's points, there are only 16 spots in the playoff field. Eleven drivers have already secured their spots with race wins. The list includes Logano, Cindric, Ryan Blaney, Suarez, Elliott, Larson, Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Brad Keselowski, and Tyler Reddick.

This leaves five spots open in the playoff field, but there are far more drivers in the mix.

This list includes a champion in Martin Truex Jr. and past playoff drivers like Bowman, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Chastain, Chase Briscoe, Busch, Michael McDowell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Gibbs has not won a race or reached the playoffs in his Cup career, but he is currently in a position to point his way into the first round.

Mathematically, Logano's statement is accurate. Some solid drivers will miss the playoffs.

There just aren't enough spots in the field, and there will be opportunities for drivers such as Josh Berry, Noah Gragson, Todd Gilliland, or Justin Haley to grab one of the remaining spots with a win.

Fortunately for Logano, he no longer has to worry about that scenario.

"The pressure was on to get all our cars in," Logano said. "That is just one piece to the puzzle that is done now. I think it lets you kind of recharge your batteries a little bit.

"Instead of going into the playoffs with your tongue hanging out, you have a moment to look a little further forward than just the next race."