Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford Fusion for Team Penske, was the first driver to meet with media members Friday at TMS ahead of the Texas 500 race weekend.
Logano, one of the eight drivers still alive for the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, spoke about his win here in the spring and what the team looks for this weekend.
Talk about your efforts here this weekend... “We need to do the same thing we did in the spring. That is the goal. Anytime you come back to a racetrack you were able to win at in the spring race brings a little added confidence. 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.”
Are you going to stay aggressive or just try not to make a mistake? “I am going to stay doing what we have been doing. What we have done all year, even before the Chase started – we have raced the same way and that is aggressive. We put ourselves in the offensive mode and no matter what the situation was, and we saw that again last weekend when we took four tires there with a green-white-checker and we started 13th and got up to fifth with the aggressive mode. That is the mode we should stay in because that is what has been working. It is not the time to reinvent the wheel, just time to polish it a little bit and make sure we stay out there doing what we have been doing, just doing a little better job at it.”
Is there a certain number of point spread you would feel good about leaving here? “No. Really after watching the last round I thought Kyle (Busch) would be a lock before Talladega and watching what happened to him I don’t think you can feel comfortable unless you have a win under your belt. That is the only way you will feel comfortable otherwise you are pulling your hair out to Phoenix and then you have Homestead which is the biggest race of the year. We have to execute. The only way we will feel comfortable is if we win the race.”
You are three points out of fifth place, things are close, is there even any discussion about you working with the 2 this weekend or the 2 working with you or at this stage is that every man for himself? “No, we will work together like we have all year. I feel like as a team, we are closer than anybody. I feel like that is our strength at Team Penske, that we work very well together. Not just the drivers, the whole team. The 2 and 22 and everybody at the shop works very well together. I think that is our biggest strength. We can’t afford to stop doing that. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and change what we are doing, just try to make better what we have been doing. We aren’t going to bail on being teammates at this point in the season, that is for sure.”
With the dynamics of the new format, have you had to tweak what you do compared to previous seasons? “I was told today that we would have a 40-something point lead if it was last years points system. That part breaks my heart a little because we are third in points right now. If it was last year, doing what we are doing now, would have worked great. Really, if you are consistent in the top-five like we have been the whole Chase you will make it to Homestead. That is why I say we need to do what we have been doing because that has been good enough to get us there.
Really I think consistency does still pay off. You see a couple guys in this deal that don’t even have a win yet this year and so consistency pays off. The wins make you feel a lot more comfortable. You try to get those when you can also. It is not worth completely ruining your day and going for a win when you have a solid second or third place finish, you take that. If the opportunity is there and you weigh out the consequences right and risk versus reward, you go for that win if you can.”
Do you like the new system with the amped up intensity? “Yeah, it stresses you out, I promise you that. Every time you get comfortable for a couple races – we have been fortunate to have a win in each round and then you get those and it is like you can relax for a race or two and just do your thing. Now, that stress level is up because you can’t get too far ahead in three races or feel comfortable enough that you are locked in. That stress level is up for each race for sure for everybody. It is just a matter of how you deal with it. It is about the same for everyone, whether you use it as a good thing or if it destroys you.”
How much has changed since the first Texas with the cars and ride height rules? Do you feel you still have an advantage having won in the spring? “I am sure something changed because it was a long time ago since we have been here and the cars have developed quite a bit. We tested here and have an idea with some of the things we went through. At the same time, we are going to look for the same things in the car that worked for us as a driver and when you run well here you kind of understand what you will need when the race starts and you can work on that in practice and both Todd and myself understand that better after the spring race. We will be able to work on that in practice and that is a nice advantage to have. Hopefully it is all similar. It is windy today and I am sure that will have an affect quite a bit.”
There are a number of tracks you guys race at twice. What is the bigger difference going back, track changes or how the car evolves? “I think it depends on the track we go to. Sometimes the temperature is quite a bit difference from spring to fall race and you see different trends and stuff like that. Some of the biggest differences is a place like Kansas and how different that race went. Everyone was fighting for the bottom in the spring and in the second race we were running against the wall. Temperature changed all that.
I think the temperature swing has a bigger difference than anything but if you look at tracks that are really far apart in the season like Phoenix next week especially this year with the new ride height package will be completely different than what we ran in the spring because we evolved a lot over the last few months. That will be a big swing different than what we have had. It is interesting to see where you were then to where you are now and to look at setups and what you will have to do different.”
Does Texas fall into that category? “A little bit. Maybe not as much but probably some. Everyone was still developing their packages quite a bit here in the spring and using up tests trying to figure it out early in the season.”
How would you describe the pressure you are feeling going into this race? “You feel it. You feel the pressure. It is there and it is there for everyone and probably equal for everyone. 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.”
When you know you have made speed all year long with a car that can win, how little can a guy like Harvick afford payback at a time when you know you have cars that can win? “I would say that is up to him, not me. I am going to focus on my own deal. You have to look at the big picture sometimes and sometimes the big picture isn’t easy to look at and you want to look at what you want to do in that moment. I am sure once you have a few days to cool your jets and be able to regroup and look at things your opinion changes. I am not saying he said the wrong thing or did anything different or wants to change his mind or not, it isn’t up to me.
For me personally, when something happens, sometimes in the heat of the moment I say something I wouldn’t have said if I thought it through more. I think that is natural. The way some people handle that stuff is different than others and that is a personality thing. For me, after I have a couple days to cool off, I can look at the big picture and understand what I have to do when I come to the race track the next weekend. Sometimes that is looking at the small picture still and sometimes it is big picture, it just depends on the situation.”
In previous rounds it seems there has been a big increase in intensity from race one to race two of the round. Have you noticed that and do you expect that this weekend? “Yeah, I think people kind of knowing that you have to get through this first two races with something decent to feel halfway comfortable and feeling like you don’t have to win that last race of the round – when something happens to make you feel you had something taken away from you or something. There is so much on the line. The emotions escalate really quickly and tempers fly. It is fun for everyone to watch.”
Why do you think team Penske has been so strong this year and what would it mean to add a cup championship to the Indy car title? “We are going for a couple more championships too. We are going for the Nationwide owners championship as well. That would be a dream season for sure. It has already been a dream season for us and the 22 car with a lot of top-five’s and five wins but we aren’t stopping there.
We want more. We want to get Roger that Sprint Cup championship trophy and that is why we are both still working together, both teams, we are both doing everything we can to make that happen and we are working to try to get that owners championship too.
What makes us strong is people. Everyone can buy the same tools and same equipment but it is the people you have running the tools that makes a difference. Everyone can buy a 9/16’s wrench but not everyone turns it the same way. That is the difference. The people back at the shop, the folks here at the track, the way we communicate and do our jobs the best we can is the difference. It is the difference between teams. There are always areas to improve on for sure and that is true of every team I am sure. To me, what makes a good race team is the people because we all can buy the tools.”
The win you had here in april where you had the green-white-checkered and still took four tires, did that cement that strategy? “It worked that day, for sure. Each race track is different. Martinsville, it is a gutsy call even at the end of it I talked with Todd and thought it was a gutsy call. If we started 14th or 12th instead of 13th I was in a different deal and wouldn’t have finished fifth. There is so much to weigh out in such a short amount of time to make those calls. Todd has done a great job of calling them. I am not saying four tires is our call every time but I do personally would rather be on the offense instead of the defense.
I feel I am a better driver on offense and I think Todd understands that. I think we build our cars to be aggressive and be able to put cars in a tough spot and the cars handle well to do that so we can take advantage of that. Does that mean four tires is always the aggressive call? No, two tires a lot of times is the aggressive call. That gets you up there. It depends on the moment and the track and the whole situation.”
Can you talk about your test at homestead and what you worked on and also as a kid, did you let your imagination go and think about what it would be like to win a sprint cup championship? “I never have up until recently. 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 and we focused on making our car fast at the test, finding raw speed. 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.”
Before the chase started brad (Keselowski) said you and Jeff Gordon were the first two people to come to mind that could be in homestead. Here we are and both of you are sitting in good position. Looking back at the season how did your teams success on the intermediate tracks play in where you are? “We have been strong at the intermediate race tracks but a lot of our wins came from short tracks with Bristol and Richmond and being able to win at those smaller race tracks was kind of a surprise to me. We had speed at a lot of different types or race tracks and Loudon too. We have won at race tracks this year that haven’t been very good for me in the past which is awesome. When you can conquer the tracks that are challenges for you it makes you feel great.
It makes you confident about anywhere you go. Also, having that mile-and-a-half speed and two-mile speed, we had that last year and it plays in to our motors. I think our motor package is better on the bigger tracks at the higher RPM and we have done a lot of working getting them better on the short tracks and that has shown this year. The way Todd and I have been able to communicate and understand what makes us good in the race has been very important for us to understand that and we have seen speed come from that in the race.
That is something both of us get and having that chemistry is big. Those are the big things that have made us fast, not just at intermediate race tracks but everywhere we go. Having that team that is behind you and we are all on the same page and understand what we need to go fast is important.”
When you look at the list of guys left in contention, is there someone you look at and say you will have to beat him to win the championship? “Yeah, there are seven guys we have to beat one way or another. There are some stronger than others right now but that all can change. In one race it can be completely difference. Like Jim said, you look at the 24 and the 4 car and the 2 as some of the fastest guys right now that are still in this thing but you never know. Newman is Mr. Consistency. He and Kenseth, they don’t make mistakes and are typically very consistent and that is why they are here.
That is equally as important as winning a race. That is what got them here in the same boat as we are in having won races. Everyone is someone you have to look at, maybe for different reasons. Some guys are fast and you look at them for race wins and some guys get great finishes out of a so-so car with speed. Having all that put together will be the guy that wins this thing. Having a fast car and executing is what we are trying to have with the 22 car.”