Joey Logano is in his first year of driving the No. 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entry for Penske Racing but is in his fifth full season, overall, in Sprint Cup competition. Heading into Sunday’s race at Pocono Racineway in Long Pond, Pa., Logano finds himself mired back in 18th in the championship points standings. Counting this weekend’s Pocono race, Logano has six races to either pull off a couple of wins or climb back into the top-10 in points if he hopes to be a part of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. He’s optimistic and maybe part of that has to do with the fact that he won one of the circuit’s two Pocono races in 2012. On Wednesday, Logano spoke about his chances to make the Chase. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Joey, as a previous winner at Pocono, do you look at this weekend to be a good jumping off point to get back into the top ten in the championship standings after winning here last year?
JOEY LOGANO: I think it would be a great opportunity, and I look at the first race we had in Pocono this year, we had a really good car. Qualifying got rained out. So we had to start a little further to the back than we wanted to, and we fought all day to get our car to be good enough up front and get that track position, and I think we finished tenth. I felt like we were a lot better than that.
Going back to a good racetrack for me in the past, going back to a racetrack for the first time in the 22 car. Every track we’ve gone to so far has been the first time I’ve gone to a racetrack with Todd Gordon and the 22 team as a team. So being able to go to the racetrack for the second time, I think there’s some advantages with that also.
Q. How badly did you guys need a solid finish at Indy after the runs that you had at Daytona and New Hampshire? I guess that means you still have plenty of work to do before the Chase cutoff time as well.
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, we need six more really good races. We need them really bad. It’s like you said, obviously, we knew we were better than the last two finishes we’ve had there at Daytona and Loudoun there, those two tire failures that put us with two 40th place finishes. We know we’re better than that as a team, leading up with a lot of top tens going into that.
Then obviously, having an uneventful race at Loudoun — or at Indy the last weekend, I was able to build up some of that confidence again throughout the team.
Not that I feel like we lost much. You know, when you run bad and it’s not — and it’s out of your control, you don’t lose much confidence, but if you just run slow, obviously, that’s a confidence killer. So I felt like the team still, spirits are high, and I think, you know, like we said earlier going into Pocono, I feel like that actually brings even more confidence into the team.
I feel really good about our chances this weekend.
Q. And this may be nothing, but is there any back story at all to the team’s choice of car No. 48 for the Nationwide Race that you guys will be running at Watkins Glen?
JOEY LOGANO: No, I don’t. I don’t think there’s any back story behind that one, but I thought it was kind of funny. I was like, man, Todd’s going to call the race for us, and I said, well, I’m just going to call him Chad, and you can call me Jimmie.
I think, if I don’t win in the 48 car, we’ve got an issue.
Q. Do you feel that, in order to make the Chase now, that points is out of the question, that you’ve got to win at least two races in the last — over the next six races to get in?
JOEY LOGANO: No, no, I think we can do it in points. We can break ourselves in the top ten. We did this already once coming from more than 35 points back and brought ourselves into the top ten and in a shorter amount of time than we’ve got now.
So we can’t — we’re right on edge of not being able to do that now. In my eyes and in Todd’s eyes, we can make it in points. We’re not to the point that we’re going to take a big gamble and go for a win, and if it doesn’t work out, we’re going to finish 25th. We can’t quite do that yet, but we’re really, really close. We’re one bad race away from we need to win or finish 25th. We’re not there yet, but we’re one race from it, I think.
You know, it’s frustrating, and it’s kind of funny how these points go. We run eighth last weekend, and you gain one point to the Chase, and that’s it. But it closes everything up.
We went through this earlier this year trying to make up a lot of points, and you run three or four weeks in the top ten, and you don’t gain hardly any spots in points. Then all of a sudden, it happens really quick. In one race, you’ll gain four spots, the next one you’ll gain three spots. It’s just closing up that gap to all the cars in front of you, and then the positions seem to change quicker.
So obviously, it’s really close between 19th and 8th, 7th, 8th. So we don’t feel like we’re out of it by no means. We feel like we can definitely get into this Chase by points, but, yes, a win would be huge right now. That would be a big confidence builder for us and would obviously help us a lot getting into the Chase.
Q. Can you talk just a little bit about the differences — obviously, it’s the same track that you were at back in June, but with the weather maybe being a little warmer, can you talk about some of the differences that Pocono might bring between from the first race in June to this race in August.
JOEY LOGANO: Hopefully, it’s dry. That would be nice. But there are some differences. NASCAR’s opened up their gear rule a little bit for ratios. So obviously, people are going to be playing a little bit with that stuff.
And, shoot, I mean, these cars, this new Gen-6 car has developed so quickly, and all these teams are trying different things, and the stuff they’ve been working on that they’ve raced — stuff they raced early in the season, they probably won’t come back and race again because people are developing new stuff so quick.
If you race what you raced your last time, you’re behind the times, and you’re not probably going to be as good as you were. So you always got to be looking ahead and trying to find a little bit more.
Yeah, the racetrack changes a little bit because it will be a little warmer out, but the racetrack is going to be the least amount of change compared to what the cars are.
Q. It’s your fifth full season in the Sprint Cup Series. You have two wins. I know people in racing know how difficult it is to win in the Series. I’m just wondering, at this point in your career, has it been tougher than you expected? Maybe by now you expected to have, I don’t know, half a dozen wins?
JOEY LOGANO: Yeah, I mean, obviously, yes, it is tough. But this year has gone very well, in my eyes. We’ve had really fast race cars. We’ve had opportunities to win, but, yes, we’ve had a lot of adversity.
When you look at those two 40th place finishes, you look at the issues we had at the beginning of the year, you look at a penalty, I feel like this year we’re easily a Chase contending team that’s capable, I think, of winning a championship.
Right now we’re out of position because some things that were our fault and some things that we couldn’t control. That’s part of our sport, and that’s how it goes, but we’re in contention of winning races now. I’m excited about that.
I had to go through a learning curve when I first started racing Cup in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different things, and I feel like having this fresh start here at Penske Racing with Shell and Pennzoil and Roger and Brad and Todd and all these guys, we’re all working great together.
So I feel like we’re right on the verge of getting that win this season and getting ourselves in.
Q. Joey, I wanted to ask you about the points roller coaster. You touched on it a little bit earlier about the wild swings going from 18th to 10th and back to 18th, but I was wondering like how your mentality changes during those weeks. I mean, do you — when you’re on a big boost, do you suddenly get on a high, and then is it crushed when you slip back in points, or do you try to stay even keel? How do you manage the emotions of those — the swing in the points?
JOEY LOGANO: The goal is to stay even keel. Easier said than done, though. You know, obviously, yes, when you’re moving up through the points, it’s obviously when it’s the easiest. You get a lot of confidence. You get a lot of momentum, and everyone’s attitudes are great.
You have two bad finishes, yes, it’s going to — it hurts. It takes some wind out of your sail for sure. But you have to find the silver lining, wherever it is, and look forward. The more you dwell on the stuff, it just hurts the team.
It’s my job and Todd’s job, as the team leaders here, to make sure that doesn’t happen with our team, make sure our team stays confident and knowing that they can go out there and win races and knowing we as a team can win races, even when we have a bad race.
We’re going to have bad races. That’s part of racing. That’s part of anything. That’s part of life. But you got to learn from the mistakes and move on. The more you dwell on it, the more you’re just hurting yourself.
Like I said, you can’t forget about it. You’ve got to learn from it and then move on.
Q. Joey, can you explain how it was for you — you mentioned you’re the youngest guy to win at Pocono. How it was for you being young and learning young while moving up to NASCAR levels.
JOEY LOGANO: There’s — it was difficult, and there’s a lot more to it than I thought. Just like any 18-year-old kid, I thought I knew everything, and it turns out I didn’t.
No, I mean, I got into a Nationwide car when I was 18, and a really good Nationwide car, able to go out there and win races really quick. All of a sudden, now you think, okay, I got this figured out. I’m pretty good. We’re going to be all right.
And then they put you in a Sprint Cup car, and then you start to struggle, and then that’s an eye-opening experience there, and you don’t know where to even start. You don’t know what you don’t know. You don’t even know where to go to make yourself better.
So the first thing you got to do is figure out what you can do to make yourself better, what areas you need to work on, and then start working on them. That’s not an overnight procedure. That takes a long time to figure out what’s wrong and then trying to fix it. It takes — it’s taken me years. I don’t think you’re ever there. You’re always looking for that extra little bit as a driver, and I expect that throughout the whole team in which I see that here at Penske Racing.
So I’m happy where I am now. Like I said, I’m not content, though. Obviously, I want to be out there and want to be winning races and running up front. But I do feel — I do see the gains we’ve made throughout the last few years — I’ve made throughout the last three years, and I’ve seen the gains that we’ve made at Penske since I’ve started here. So I’m excited about all that.
Q. Now, what advice would you give to a young person — obviously, you’ve touched on that — but a young person, there’s so many young guys trying to move up to NASCAR. What would be one or two things that you would share with them that might help them?
JOEY LOGANO: It’s hard to do that, and it’s funny you bring that up. I was talking to someone yesterday, kids driving the Legends car, 15 years old. What would you say to someone that’s driving a Legends car at 15? At that point, that’s, honestly, the most fun you’re going to have. You’re going out there as a recreational sport. You’re having fun. You’re young. You’re getting to drive a race car. How cool is that? Not everyone gets the opportunity to do that. So you’ve got to enjoy this.
And I make sure every day I wake up and I pinch myself because this is a dream come true for me, don’t get me wrong, but it is a lot of work, and it is very stressful at the same time.
But when you run good, like I’ve been saying, when you run good, it makes all this worth it, and this is what I want to do.
But I think as a younger kid, you have such an opportunity to drive a race car and have fun with it. You know, have fun. Obviously, you’re going to have to work hard, though, to win. Still even at that level, you need to work on your cars. You need to learn your cars and learn what does what and learn how to race.
There’s struggles even when you first start racing because you don’t know how to race anyone and what to do in certain situations. That’s just part of a learning curve that you go through just like you would in any other sport. If you were playing baseball, you don’t know how to play baseball when you first start. You’ve got to figure it all out. So just enjoy the experience.
Q. Yes, Joey, I’m curious if you targeted any of the upcoming races as ones that you feel like, yeah, you maybe have a better chance to win than some of the others.
JOEY LOGANO: I mean, there is a few that stand out. I think Pocono this weekend is one that stands out. I think you look at Bristol. We had a really fast car there in the Spring that’s capable of winning. That one stands out. Watkins Glen actually stands out to me as a race we can win.
The next few races coming up, I feel really good about. I feel like we can win at. So I don’t see any bad tracks coming up for me right now that I’m worried about.
We’ve just got to capitalize on the tracks that are typically good for me and good for this race team and try to put our Shell Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane.
Q. And how have the last couple weeks kind of changed your outlook at all as far as either strategy or preparation? Considering you’ve just taken a big hit in the points.
JOEY LOGANO: Like I said earlier, it doesn’t really change our strategy yet, but we’re getting close. We’re one bad race away, but I think, if we top ten this out, I think we can get into the Chase by points. But we’re one bad race from needing to go for it and changing our strategy.
Hey, that’s what we’re thinking. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on that, and depending on where they are in points and what’s going on.
Nothing’s changed here. Our confidence is still high. In all honesty, I think winning that Chicago race on our off weekend was nothing but good for me. You’re coming out of two straight 40th place finishes, and you get to go out there and win in Chicago in the Hertz car. That’s big. That transfers over to the Cup side, as much as some people don’t think it does. That definitely does.
Even though those guys weren’t at the racetrack seeing that win and going through this whole race shop, bringing home a trophy to this race shop is important for the company.
Q. Joey, a couple of weeks ago, I had an interview with you, and a fan called me and asked me this. They said, you know, Joey’s competed in all three of the NASCAR divisions. Out of the three divisions, is there one division that he looks forward to? Or is it just racing that’s in his blood so he doesn’t care?
JOEY LOGANO: It’s just racing. I like to race. Obviously, winning a Sprint Cup race is going to mean more than winning a Nationwide race, and winning a Nationwide race is going to mean more than winning a Truck race, but a win’s a win, and I’m going to be excited about it either way.
But it’s just the level of difficulty keeps going up as you move up through the ranks. So when you win a Sprint Cup race, that means a lot. But I’m a racer. I love racing. Whether it’s at a go-kart track or a four-wheeler or whatever, that’s what I love to do, and I’m very fortunate and blessed to get to drive a race car for a living. Like what’s cooler than that?
So like I said, I enjoy that fact, and getting to race against the best race car drivers in the world, I’m all about that. That’s a lot of fun.
– photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR