Six races remain before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup cutoff point, meaning time isn't the only thing running short for postseason hopefuls. With increasing urgency to lock in a playoff spot, driver patience is in short supply, too.
Joey Logano may be one of the first in line to claim a much-needed win when the series returns to Pocono Raceway for Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN). After all, he was first in line when the checkered flag fell at the 2.5-mile track's most recent race in June.
Logano ranks 17th in Sprint Cup points, but a repeat Pocono victory would thrust the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the heart of the wild-card conversation. Just two postseason berths are available to drivers in points positions 11-20 with the most wins. Kasey Kahne, a two-time winner this year, and Kyle Busch (one win) are currently 1-2 in the wild-card race. Logano and Ryan Newman are the only other drivers with a victory in spots 11-20.
"The points do matter to be up there, but also the win is more important right now than anything," Logano said. "So obviously points come with the win, so that would also help me move up. But if there's three people with two wins, which I think there's a good chance that could happen, you're going to have to be the guy that is up there with the points, too."
With time of the essence, Logano suggests playing it safe may not be an option.
"You've got to be aggressive with it," Logano said. "If you think about it too much, you're going to not be up front where you need to be. I think that's one thing I've done this year is be more aggressive than I've been in the past. I've made mistakes with that, but trying to limit that. At the same time, you've got to go for it. You've got to risk it to get the biscuit."
As much as the pressure might weigh on Logano, the burden is far greater for Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, two drivers who were considered preseason Chase favorites but are still seeking a breakthrough win in 2012. Edwards, who ranks 12th in points, finished 11th in the June race at Pocono; Gordon (15th in points) was an unremarkable 19th in the series' last visit to the Keystone State.
Gordon finished fifth last weekend to gain two spots in the points, but Edwards continues to lose sight of the top 10 drivers, who automatically qualify for the Chase. Edwards struggled with mechanical gremlins in a 29th-place finish last weekend at Indianapolis, making victories must-haves over the home stretch of NASCAR's regular season.
"I think it will involve lots of pushing on the right pedal and turning left and going as fast as possible," Edwards said. "We have to take chances. We have to go race. We can do that, we can race like that. It will actually be a big relief in a way because there is no other choice. We just go race for wins. I wouldn't bet against us. We can do it."
The race will be the second Cup event on Pocono's fresh pavement, which dramatically increased speeds at the sprawling triangular layout. Logano had no problem adjusting to the velocity, winning the pole position at a record 179.598 mph before claiming the main prize.
"Definitely the track's a lot different than what it used to be, but it seems like it's still Pocono," Logano said. "A lot of the things you did before to make your car go fast, or the things you look for in a car to go fast are still the same."