With three races to decide the Sprint Cup championship, Joey Logano remains focused on the present.
FORT WORTH, Texas – As a six-year-old quarter midget racer growing up in New England, Joey Logano never imagined what it would be like to win a NASCAR championship.
After he entered the Nationwide Series ranks and landed a Sprint Cup ride with Joe Gibbs Racing as a teenager, Logano’s focus was simply on surviving.
Once Logano moved to Team Penske, however, his career blossomed. Not only did the 24-year-old driver of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford easily qualify for the Chase to the Sprint Cup, but he has also won races in the first two rounds of the playoffs to raise his total for the season to a career-high five victories.
Before last week’s fifth-place finish at Martinsville Speedway, Logano led the point standings for three consecutive weeks. But it wasn’t until a test this week at Homestead-Miami – site of the season finale - that Logano allowed himself to ponder the possibility of winning the title.
When you are in Homestead you think about the race and how it will play out and if everything went well how it would be.
“I never have up until recently,” said Logano of the Sprint Cup Championship. “I feel we have a really good shot at it. I have never been in this position before. We made the Chase last year but at this point we were out of it. This time we have a good shot. There are eight cars that still have a good shot which is the hard part. There are so many guys that can still win this thing and you can be knocked out quick.
“When you are in Homestead you think about the race and how it will play out and if everything went well how it would be. It is hard not to let your mind go that way a little bit. You have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
Practice makes perfect
On Tuesday and Wednesday, “the task” was “finding raw speed” for when the No. 22 Ford returns to Homestead in two weeks.
If Logano is fortunate to be one of the final four drivers battling for the title, he’ll need all the speed he can muster to battle against the remaining candidates.
Having a fast car is a big deal but I think everyone executing and not letting pressure get to you will make you the guy to win a championship.
“We focused on making our car fast at the test,” Logano said. “That is the big thing when you go to a test and then when you go to the race you take that speed and try to execute the race. I think we found a couple things. I think it is key to have a car that can go from the top to the bottom there. We focused on being fast on the long runs, whether on the bottom or the top, which is a challenge there for sure.
"When you run the wall there you are right up against it. It is neat. It is a lot of fun and hairy as heck but it is a lot of fun to do and be able to run that long of a race up against it and not touch it will take amazing concentration along with everything else going on in that race. You have to stay focused and I think execution will be the name of the game there.
"Having a fast car is a big deal but I think everyone executing and not letting pressure get to you will make you the guy to win a championship.”
Picking up the pace
Logano had one top-five finish in nine starts prior joining Team Penske. Behind the wheel of the No. 22 Ford, his average finish at Texas Motor Speedway is third. Logano, who won the spring race here, was disappointed with his 10th-place qualifying effort for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.
His strategy entering the weekend was simple “do the same thing we did in the spring”. In April, Logano and his teammate Brad Keselowski led a combined 193 laps on the 1.5-mile track.
“Anytime you come back to a racetrack you were able to win at in the spring race brings a little added confidence,” Logano said. “We tested here a few weeks ago getting ready for this, knowing this would be an important race to get us to Homestead.
“We are lucky we had a good finish last week with a top-five but it doesn’t set you up as well as you want to be knowing there are only three races. We have to be able to come out of here with at least a top-five finish and hopefully get that win again. It all starts here in a couple hours with practice and trying to tune our AAA Fusion in as good as we had it in the spring.”
No time like the present
Texas is the only track in the final three races where Logano has a win. He’s picked up the pace at Phoenix since joining Penske – particularly in his last two starts with a top five, a top 10 and 104 laps at the point. Historically, Homestead-Miami Speedway has been one of Logano’s worst tracks. His first top 10 finish came last November in his first start at the track with Penske.
So it’s not surprising that Logano is starting to feel the pressure.
“It is there and it is there for everyone and probably equal for everyone,” Logano said. “Maybe everyone has a different game plan. Some guys have to win and some need a consistent finish. Either way there is pressure to that. It is there.
“I feel like I am doing a good job handling it and I think my whole team is. When that pressure is on, not only for the driver but the pit crew and the guys working on your car day to day, they are thinking about how one mistake can keep you from winning this championship and that is pressure for sure. Those guys going over the wall and you are in position to win the race and come down pit road and one missed lug nut can change the whole outcome of your year that is pressure.
“I feel the 22 team has handled that great so far. I am not nervous about it at all. Thinking about it just makes you more nervous so that isn’t the right way to go. You focus on your race car and the job at hand.”