‘Feeling of relief’ for Logano and team
By Kyle McFadden
May 4, 2018
DOVER, Del.—Joey Logano approached the snack table at the drivers council meeting Tuesday at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, snooping at the assortments with a playful but legitimate question.
“You’re not serving cucumbers over here, are you?” he asked one of the snack attendants.
Those who were close by laughed, and the media members listening to Logano recite the light-hearted but affirmative moment from this past week got a good chuckle, too. There were, indeed, no cucumbers being served.
For the ones who need some context, Logano’s only win of 2017 was “encumbered” because his No. 22 Penske Ford failed post-race inspection.
Because of its oddness and cucumber jokes, “encumbered” is no longer a term for stripped wins. But the now 28-year-old never won since then and subsequently missed the playoffs.
Last week, he ended his 36-race winless drought in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, and this time, he got through inspection unschathed.
That makes this weekend’s approach into the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway different than the previous 46 weeks: For the first time since the week of the 2016 Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano and his crew prepare knowing they’re back in the title hunt.
“There’s a little feeling of relief in a way within the race-team,” Logano said Friday morning at Dover. “Like, ‘Phew, we’re in.’ The goal has changed. When you start the season, it’s always to want to win the championship, which you have to take one step at a time.
“You have to get in the playoffs first before you can win the championship. We learned that last year.”
The win last weekend marked the 19th Cup victory of Logano’s career, and if he can find Victory Lane once again this Sunday, Logano would join elite company—Jeff Gordon, Richard Petty, Kyle Busch, Fireball Roberts, and Junior Johnson—as drivers to win 20 races before turning 30.
Logano led the final 42 laps in his long-awaited triumph at Talladega last Sunday, a moment that halted a year-long process of growing pains to get back to title contention. He enters this weekend second in the MENCS standings, 30 points behind leader Kyle Busch and 51 ahead of Kevin Harvick.
Dover has given Logano some fond and frightening memories over the years. It’s the site of his National touring series debut -- an XFINITY Series start in 2008—and where he captured his first NASCAR affiliated title—the K&N Pro Series East championship in 2007.
“Dover has always been a special place to me,” Logano said. “I enjoy coming here as a race car driver. It’s probably one of the racetracks that you still feel like you’re going really, really fast. It’s definitely a bad-ass racetrack.”
In 2009, however, Logano was involved in one of the most horrific crashes in the tracks history, when his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota barrel-rolled down Turn 3 after slamming the outside wall. The following year, his violent crash appeared on the track’s program covers and people haven’t forgotten it until this day, nearly nine years ago.
“When people think of Joey Logano at Dover, they [think of the] crash,” Logano said with a laugh. “But that’s out of my memory now.”
In 18 Cup starts at the Monster Mile, Logano has three top fives and 10 top 10s with a best finish of third (twice; 2010 and 2013) and an average finish of 14.2, which ranks 12th of the 23 tracks.
Through 10 races this season, he’s accumulated the same amount of top fives (four) and top 10s (nine) than what he put together over the final 27 races of last year (after his “encumbered” win at Richmond).
“When you don’t win, it gets harder and harder to believe that,” Logano said. “It’s a big boost for us. It’s all about carrying that momentum now. You’re in the playoffs. It’s all about getting as much playoff points as possible, winning those stages, collecting the regular season points [championship], and winning those races—that’s where the most playoff points come from. Now we can keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“We have to keep our heads down and keep pushing. As Roger [Penske] says all the time, don’t trip on your press clippings because you won one race.”
Dominic Aragon/TRE Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR