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No. 1 with fans, Logano aims for top spot at New Hampshire

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

By DAN GELSTON

AP Sports Writer

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) Joey Logano can always count on top billing when he races at what counts as his hometown track.

Take a walk at the New Hampshire fan zone and Logano's name is on the marquee high above the ground for the film "Cross-Threaded." Logano stars with drag racer Robert Hight in a trailer for the faux film sponsored by AAA that centers on the buddy team searching for the missing Golden Lug Nut.

"Turn right!" Hight urges during a high-speed chase.

"I can't! I don't know how!" Logano says.

Cut to the next scene, the drivers watch in mock shock, the car engulfed in flames.

Yes, the preview clip lived up to its "AAA" rating for bad acting and cheesy catchphrases. Fans waiting in line to collect Logano bobbleheads got a kick out of the film and perked up when it was announced Logano would appear Sunday morning to sign autographs.

"I'd be here nice and early," the cheery MC announced.

Logano, a native of Middletown, Connecticut, will surely find a line a few hours before he slides into the No. 22 car for Sunday's race. Site of his first career Cup win, Logano has always enjoyed a robust following at the speedway.

"I feel like I am Dale Junior because everybody likes me," Logano said, referencing NASCAR's most popular driver.

Logano needs more than sitting atop the NASCAR Q Score among New England race fans as he makes a push for one of the final playoff spots.

The 27-year-old Logano is seven points outside the 16-driver field to secure a spot in NASCAR's version of the postseason. Most drivers automatically qualify for a spot with a victory, but not Logano. NASCAR essentially stripped him of all benefits that came with his April win at Richmond because of a rear suspension violation. His win stands in the record book but he was docked significant points and his crew chief was suspended.

Logano reeled off six top-five finishes in the first nine races that ended at Richmond. Since his team was busted, Logano posted just two top-10 finishes over the last nine races and four times he finished 25th or worse.

A regular in the postseason, Logano needs to get his car almost as hot as the one in his movie with eight races left before the field is set.

"Very surprised. This isn't what you expect when you start the season," Logano said. "You go out there expecting to win the championship and the playoffs - you just assume you would be there. I still assume we are going to be there."

He tries to dismiss the speculation swirling in the garage or from critics that whatever winning formula Logano had early in the season came courtesy of the finagling his Team Penske crew worked on the Ford.

"If I was on the outside looking in, I would say the exact same thing, but it is not. I promise you that," Logano said. "It is not that simple. It never is in our sport. There are a lot of things that add up to it. But when you crash three weeks in a row, it takes the wind out of your sails."

Logano, who drives for owner Roger Penske, has two wins and an average finish of 14.9 in 17 career starts at New Hampshire. Logano attended his first NASCAR race at New Hampshire when he was 5, made his first career Cup start here and won a rain-shortened race in 2009. He pulled away on an overtime restart in 2014 for his second win at the track about 75 miles outside of Boston.

Logano called it "a bummer" that New Hampshire loses a race season when its fall race is moved to Las Vegas.

"I want to race here three or four times a year," he said, laughing.

He'll start 13th on Sunday - about in the middle of his 24th and seventh starting spots he had for his two victories.

"This team rises to the occasion, for sure," he said. "When the pressure is on, they show up."

Logano can only hope they'll be there at New Hampshire.

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More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

Updated July 15, 2017

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