Now midway through his second season at Team Penske, Joey Logano has developed into a legitimate threat to win this year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. And he is definitely someone to watch in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
Logano has finished 11th or better in each of the last three NASCAR road races at the 1.99-mile Northern California track, and Friday morning he was optimistic about the weekend ahead here.
"I like coming here. It’s such a fun race track for us and obviously a change-up for NASCAR to come to these road courses," Logano said before the first of two practice rounds here. "Sonoma, I always felt is kind of like the short track of road course racing for me. Tire wear is definitely very high too, so that strategy that comes into this race also with people talking about the two-stop or three-stop race, that comes into play there. So strategy, passing each other, keeping the fenders on this thing, keeping it on the race track, it’s just such a challenging place and makes it a lot of fun."
Also fun for Logano has been the huge improvement at Team Penske in 2014. A year ago at this time, Logano had no victories, four top-five and seven top-10 finishes, along with 66 laps led. This year, Logano has two victories, making him one of only four Sprint Cup drivers with multiple wins so far. He also has six top fives, eight top 10s and 445 laps led, all better than last year.
What’s been the difference? Having a another year with Ford helps — Penske switched from Dodge to Ford last year — and so does Logano having another year with Penske under his belt and another year of experience as a driver.
Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, said Friday that the cooperation that Logano and his crew chief Todd Gordon have with Brad Keselowski and his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, have been critical.
"I think the biggest asset to us right now is teamwork," said "Geisler. "Both teams are working off of each other and confidence. When you come out and you have a big rules change and some car changes — the aero package changed a fair amount from what we’ve ever had before — when we came out and had some success both guys were able to gain some confidence that their direction was working and it was generating results. That’s the hardest thing to do is get confidence and what your mindset is on how you’re approaching your setups week in and week out."
With Team Penske clearly outperforming fellow Ford team Roush Fenway Racing, one big reason is bringing fast race cars to the track, instead of trying to improve them when they get there.
"There’s kind of a philosophy on how you create your setup to show up with and right now we’re showing up and we have decent speed in the cars and that just continues to build that confidence that you know what you’re doing and you can generate a setup that will run well when you’re sitting at your desk at the shop," said Geisler. "So that’s huge when you go to these last 10 (races)."
Geisler said Logano and Keselowski should both play prominent roles in this year’s championship.
"I think you’re gonna see about four or five cars," said Geisler. "I think if you looked at today, and everything can change by the time we get to there because this deal really ebbs and flows a lot, but I think the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) are probably the two main targets. Obviously, the 24 (Jeff Gordon) and the 88 (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) have been running well, and then I feel like our cars are right there. I think it will certainly be a difficult battle, but I think we’re getting ourselves in position and we’re focused on what we need to do for those last 10 races to be the best ones of the year."