LOUDON, N.H. — As he embarks on another Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, last year advancing to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of four drivers eligible to win the title, Joey Logano said he didn’t intend to reinvent the wheel.
“I think after what we did last year and seeing how we got there, I wouldn’t really change much of it,’’ said Logano, who won five races a season ago in his No. 22 Ford fielded by Roger Penske, including a pair of Chase races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, to enter the Championship Round as the points leader.
“The way we executed in races, and were able to win a couple of them in the Chase,’’ Logano said. “And being able to stay calm and cool when things didn’t quite go our way, I think that’s pretty important.’’
Logano learned that on the fly last season when he vaulted to the points lead by winning the Sylvania 300 at NHMS, the second leg of the Challenger Round. He followed with a victory at Kansas, the first race in the Contender Round, which enabled him to absorb a fourth-place finish at Charlotte and an 11th-place finish at Talladega.
Logano was one of eight drivers to advance to the Eliminator Round, from which he emerged as the points leader after recording a fifth at Martinsville, Va., a 12th at Fort Worth, and a sixth at Phoenix.
“There’s a lot of stress that is going to be put on this team right now and there’s going to be a lot of guys who handle it differently,’’ Logano said. “A lot of times you figure out during the regular season what works for you and you’ve got to stick with that. Then there are some guys who don’t handle the pressure as well, some drivers and some members of teams.
“But I feel like our team [headed by crew chief Todd Gordon] is strong and we learned a lot last year from what we went through. That’s why our slogan last year was, ‘Do what we do,’ and we’re not going to change that.’’
So, what does Logano do when he’s at his best?
“You win,’’ Logano said, breaking into a laugh. “Like I said, it’s keeping your head in control and whatnot when the race deals you a little adversity. It’s always going to happen. The race is always going to throw you a curveball every now and then.’’
The 25-year-old driver from Middletown, Conn., used last year’s momentum to springboard to a spectacular start in 2015, winning the season-opening Daytona 500 for the first time. It was the first of three regular-season victories for Logano at three distinct venues — Daytona’s high-banked, 2.5-mile trioval superspeedway, Bristol’s half-mile bullring, and the seven-turn, 2.45-mile road course at Watkins Glen — that cemented his spot in the 16-driver Chase.
But was his victory at Daytona out the door now that he has a foothold in the Chase?
“I don’t think you look at any win as being out the door, especially a Daytona 500 win,’’ Logano said. “It’s always going to be a special one that you remember. I make sure I look at that trophy every day, because it’s pretty cool. But you know, as far as the first round of the Chase, there are some bonus points from those three wins. We can rely on nine extra points there. So we’ll try to position ourselves to get to the next round and take it, like I said, one race at a time.’’
After starting second and finishing sixth in the Chase opener last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, Logano returns to defend the Sylvania 300 title at NHMS, where qualifying has always been of paramount importance.
If anything has been a strong suit this season for Logano, it has been qualifying, resulting in five poles. In the races in which he started at the front of the field in Atlanta, Martinsville, Richmond (twice), and Kansas, Logano posted top-five results (fourth, third, fifth, third, fifth).
“I didn’t know that but it’s good to know. I like that,’’ Logano said. “I just wish they were all winning results. But really, it helps your whole day. If you don’t have a good qualifying effort, you have to start from behind the eight-ball. I’m not saying that you’re basically out of the race, but it just makes life a little bit harder.’’
But a little adversity is not likely to derail Logano. He’ll just keeping doing what he and his team do best.
“I think this year, so far, it’s been a good season,’’ said Logano, who is tied for fifth in the points. “Our top fives and top 10s are up there better than we were last year at this point, so I feel we’re peaking at the right moment. Our cars are fast right now, the confidence is up on our team, our pit stops have been great, so we’re ready to let it rip.’’Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.