There was a time, and it wasn’t long ago, when Joey Logano was not considered a great restrictor-plate racer at NASCAR’s superspeedways in Daytona and Talladega.
That has changed dramatically, and it’s no coincidence.
Prior to winning the last two fall races at Talladega, Logano had finished 24th or worse in seven of the previous 11 races there. And prior to winning the 2015 Daytona 500, he had finished 17th or worse in eight of his previous 12 NASCAR Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway.
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All told, he went a stretch of 24 consecutive races at the beginning of his Cup career without winning at either place. Now he’s on fire at both, having added an Advance Auto Parts Clash exhibition race victory to his resume last Saturday night at Daytona in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
“I do think I’ve made some big gains from where I used to be when it comes to speedway racing,” Logano said at Daytona 500 media day Tuesday morning. “I think as a race-car driver, you always look to be better at certain things. And I remember when I first started speedway racing, I wasn’t very good at all.
“I’ve worked really hard at it to become better – so it’s cool that we’ve been able to be competitive at ‘em and win these races. I guess as a driver, you put your helmet on and you feel like you’re the best out there. I’ve always felt that way – but at the same time, I’m always able to go back after one of these races and say, ‘I screwed this up. I did that wrong.’ I’m able to still find a lot of things I can get better at.”
Logano admitted the margin for error in a restrictor-plate race is razor thin. He expects that to remain the case in this Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500 (live on FOX at 2 p.m. ET), especially now that NASCAR has decreed that the race, and all races going forward, will be divided into three segments.
“If you’re trying to race up front the whole time, it’s an exhausting race. And I don’t think anybody is going to be riding around in the back in the new format,” Logano said.
“You try to see what’s going on a lap ahead all the time. And that’s really tough to do. To be able to do that, you have to have good information about what’s behind you, which your spotter sees. So you have to have that great communication there. And then you have to be able to see runs forming, and you have to know who you’re racing against and what types of moves they’re prone to making.”
It is a whole lot, he admitted, to take in. Oh, and then you have to take all that and make split-second decisions while wheeling your race car at approximately 200 miles per hour.
“You have to process all that information before you make that split-second move when that opportunity comes up to make that big pass,” Logano added. “So it makes it fun. We always call it a high-speed chess match, but you’ve got to be quick. When that opportunity is there, you’ve got to take it. If you hesitate for a second, the hole is gone and you don’t make the pass. So you’ve got to be quick, but you’ve also got to process all this information before it happens.”