NASCAR Cup Series

Joey Logano wants another NASCAR Cup Series title: "It's all about the trophy"

November 2

Joey Logano remembers everything about winning the NASCAR Cup Series title in 2018.

"It was better than I thought it was going to be," Logano said. "It was amazing. The whole experience is burned in my mind forever."

Some would say that with the elimination championship format, just making it to the final round is the accomplishment. Simply being one of the four drivers who has a shot at the title is the true goal because of the unpredictable nature of a one-race, top-finishing driver takes all format.

Logano doesn't agree.

"Championship 4 appearances are cool," Logano said. "Having five of them is special, as much as anybody, that's cool.

"But it's all about the trophy."

So how will Logano get that trophy this year? In a somewhat different fashion than he did for his first one in 2018. He will do it with a totally new group of people and a completely new car than he had four years ago.

Some might say the new car is the biggest difference. To hear Logano talk, the group he now works with at Team Penske is also very different, featuring crew chief Paul Wolfe, who won a title with Brad Keselowski in 2012, at the helm instead of Todd Gordon.

Wolfe and Logano had a shot at the title in their first year together in 2020, and they came up short as Logano fought an ill-handling car at the end. They get another shot Sunday at Phoenix Raceway with Logano battling Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott. The top finisher among those four will earn the Cup title.

Joey Logano on the playoffs bringing out the best in drivers

After his win at Las Vegas made him championship-round eligible, Joey Logano said the playoff format brings the best out of a driver.

Logano and Wolfe are trying to become the first crew chief-driver pairing who already have won a Cup title to win it with a different driver and crew chief. Drivers have won with different crew chiefs. Crew chiefs have won titles with different drivers. But all those times, either the driver or the crew chief was winning his first title.

In a way, that makes sense. Good driver-crew chief combinations tend to stay together. And maybe there can be a dynamic that when drivers or crew chiefs have already won a title, they are a little set in their ways so it is better to match the experience of a champion with someone still trying to obtain the ultimate prize.

But both Wolfe and Logano seem to flourish working together. They have seven wins and 32 top-five finishes together. In the three previous years with Todd Gordon, Logano earned six wins and 35 top-5s.

"The way Paul leads is different than the way Todd leads," Logano said. "They are both great — championship caliber, obviously. They both won championships because they're both really, really good. Their approach is polar-opposite, 180 degrees.

"I had to adjust to the way Paul wants to do things. But it's been good. It's made me a better driver."

Logano said Wolfe, a former driver, tends to use past experience at a racetrack a little more liberally than Gordon.

"He's a little bit more old school … Todd was very simulation-driven where Paul is more real world [of] this has worked in the past," Logano said. "So he uses his engineers a lot to work with simulations, but he's also very much, ‘This is what's worked here in the past, let's not get too far ahead.' He's kind of a realist."

Wolfe said that comes at least in part from being a former driver and not being an engineer.

"It's kind of going with your gut," Wolfe said. "I've tried to embrace the engineering side over the years to make me stronger. I feel like what works best is we have a lot of talented engineers in our company."

When they were teammates, that allowed Wolfe and Gordon to work well together as crew chiefs at Penske. They challenged each other to look at things in other ways.

While they might talk about what worked in the past, Logano said he doesn't have any "Todd Gordon did it this way" moments with Wolfe and Wolfe has not had any "Well, Keselowski did it this way" moments with Logano.

Joey Logano wins at Las Vegas

Joey Logano passes Ross Chastain late to win at Las Vegas and advance to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

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"I think we both had enough respect for each other and past success that we never really had those conversations," Wolfe said. "Everyone needs something different to perform at 100 percent. ... You can't sit here and say we are going to do the things we did with Brad and think you're going to have the same success."

The team also has different people, so both sides adapted to each other's strengths.

"The team is completely different," Logano said. "The people around are different. You can't just say, ‘It's just a different crew chief.' Every player on the team is different. So you can't lead the same way.

"What it takes to make someone tick is different for each person. It's apples and oranges. ... I was surprised how opposite it was from each other."

Wolfe said the same could be said about the two drivers he has worked with at Team Penske.

Keselowski and Logano both have a style on the track of pushing the issue and making aggressive moves — they certainly have a "no friends on the track" mentality. But Wolfe found out when he started working with Logano a few years ago that Logano is not a Keselowski clone.

"How much different it has been for me working with Brad and then the transition to Joey; they're both obviously very successful and are champions in the sport, but their approach is so much different," Wolfe said. "And their strengths and weaknesses, obviously, are different.

"So that took some adjusting for me."

The difference comes in what information the drivers want prior to the race.

"Brad was way more involved with the strategy side of it and how we wanted to play the race and those things," Wolfe said. "Joey is more focused on getting all he can get out of the car, making sure he is ready, 100 percent in all the time.

"I had to learn to kind of do some of those things Brad and I used to do together as far as planning out a race and how we were going to run the strategy, those type of things I had to learn to do with myself and the engineers."

Joey Logano's crew chief on preparation for Phoenix

Paul Wolfe explains the advantages of winning at Las Vegas and how it should help in preparation for the championship at Phoenix.

One difference in the championship run this year that would rank as special is the new Next Gen car. Logano won the first "race" of the Next Gen era when he claimed the trophy in the exhibition Clash two weeks before the Daytona 500.

"The challenge of the Next Gen car and being able to do it would be special," Logano said. "Winning the Clash was special in the Next Gen car. That made it a little bit more special because it's the first race with it — you won the first race, there's some pride in that.

"It'd be the same thing winning the first championship in that car, the challenges that the year brought on and all that. Saying that you were able to adapt and adjust to it quickly would mean a lot."

One thing Logano won't try to change will be his preparation. He has confidence in his approach, something that has been fine-tuned over the past decade.

"I've been here enough to know what to do," Logano said. "And it's been successful. I remember [the] first one, I was a nervous wreck. Just a nervous wreck, which rightfully so — you've never been there before, your dream is on the line, you don't know if you're ever going to be there again.

"[You feel] like this is the first time I made it, maybe I'll never make it again. But now it's just such a larger comfort feeling in that moment for myself, and that attitude is contagious to the team. As a leader, that's a big deal."

Needless to say, Logano wants to experience that feeling of comfort to euphoria again. The worst thing that could happen Sunday is to finish second or get wrecked battling for the win.

To win a second championship would rank first or second on his list of accomplishments.

"That was my goal my whole life," Logano said about winning the championship. "Like that's all I wanted. There was nothing else in the sport I wanted to accomplish more than win a championship. I didn't care about winning the [Daytona] 500 or Brickyard 400.

"Cool, great. But I don't have those bucket list items. I just want to win championships. That's like a bucket list item. Because it's the biggest thing you can do."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.


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