2014 Popular Speed Sprint Cup Championship Picks

There can be only one …

It’s a little cliché but the idiom certainly applies to the Ford EcoBoost 400 as only a single contender will remain as Sprint Cup champion on Sunday afternoon at Homestead Miami Speedway.

The contenders are Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman with each contender representing a different path to the championship. Logano and Harvick represent the increased emphasis on winning — visiting Victory Lane a combined nine times this season.

Hamlin won a single race, at Talladega, while Newman has yet to win a race this season, advancing through the Chase with pinpoint consistency, grit and a little bit of old-fashioned luck.

But there is no doubt, regardless of the naysayers, that the eventual champion will be deserving of the Sprint Cup trophy based on the fact that they survived the wildest 10-race stretch in the recent history of the sport. So who takes the Cup? Three of our on-track editors made their picks below.

Matt Weaver: Joey Logano

There is a certain sense of fate surrounding Team Penske this season after winning championships in the Verizon IndyCar Series and Nationwide Series respectively. Joey Logano could put the icing on the cake by closing out on the championship — and will by winning the race outright on Sunday afternoon.

While Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all taken turns in the championships spotlight this season, Team Penske has had the best overall speed between both Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski. That dominant speed, the accumulation of championships and the overall teamwork displayed by both drivers this season will ultimately push Logano towards stock car immortality.

Kelly Crandall: Joey Logano

From start to finish this season, the 22 team has had everything together. No pit road mistakes. No wrecks on the track. No mechanical failures. Even better, they have made their season on how they can improve the car over the course of a race. Sunday that’ll be the most important part of crowning a champion as a team needs not only be fast off the truck but can endure the 400-mile race and then outrun everyone at the end.

The 22 team have been – in my opinion – the best Penske car all year and one of the best, maybe second to Jeff Gordon, cars all year long. He caps it off today with his first Sprint Cup title.

Chris Owens: Ryan Newman

Everybody is talking about how he hasn’t won this season but I think that’s motivation for him to go out maybe and not win — but be the first car of the four to cross the line and win the championship.

Like many have asked, I just want to see NASCAR explain how they ended up with a champion without a victory because wasn’t winning supposed to mean everything this season? In any case, Newman will have a Newman-like day and will win his first-career championship.


Weaver: What I Want to See on Sunday

By Matt Weaver (HOMESTEAD, Fla.) — Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Homestead Miami Speedway is “high stakes” by every definition of the term.

The Ford EcoBoost 400 is the culmination of both an exciting 36-race season and the new-look Chase for the Championship. For the first time in history, four drivers will enter the final race with an equal shot at winning the vaunted Sprint Cup trophy. As a result, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman are set to engage in one of the most dramatic and intense races within a race in the storied history of NASCAR.

The expected excitement comes with it certain hopes and expectations too. The Chase has produced numerous moments that have defined the format for both better and worse from bold overtake attempts, surprising eliminations and of course — the fights. There is great potential for one of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history on Sunday but also one of its potential biggest blunders, depending on how the festivities are executed.

Here are the three things I most want to see by the end of the race:

No Questionable Late Race Cautions

The Nationwide Series race at Phoenix last weekend provided a frightening glimpse into what the future may hold on Sunday for the Sprint Cup Series Championship Four. A late race caution for a driver running out fuel (but otherwise without rhyme, reason or merit), marred the conclusion of that race. It dramatically altered the ending and cost Kyle Busch a victory.

And if you don’t think that could happen on Sunday — with a Sprint Cup championship on the line — consider these numbers:

NASCAR is throwing more cautions in the final 10 percent of Cup races than ever before, according to a recent study by Andrew Maness of Of those cautions, a large majority of them are for “debris” rather than wrecks or mechanical failures. In other words, NASCAR is deciding more and more races by late cautions or green-white-checkers.

With that in mind, it may be best if NASCAR race director David Hoots keeps the caution in his pocket, rather than bow to the temptations of deciding a championship by the random number generator that is a needless green-white-checkered finish.

With that said, cautions do sometimes happen naturally in motorsports. This isn’t to say that contenders should race through an obstacle course of debris and battered race cars in the closing laps either. It is just in the best interest of this hotly-debated new championship format if the Cup is decided with as little interruptions and meddling as possible.

The Championship Four in Contention for the Win

The genesis for the new-look playoff format was likely born from the 2011 championship battle by Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, a title that ultimately ended in a tie with the tiebreaker going to Stewart based on wins. The two contenders raced for the win throughout the night at Homestead and ultimately finished one-two, the championship going to winner Stewart.

So what if every championship could come down to the wire just like that?

And here we are.

The fact that the dramatic conclusion is no longer authentic or natural doesn’t take away from the end result. Given the accolades of the four finalists, the battle for the win and the championship will likely be synonymous and that’s a positive for the sport and the acceptance of this championship format. In a perfect world, the Championship Four all qualify up front and stay there, deciding the championship as naturally as possible with a great battle for the win.

Bold Passing Attempts but Not Overly Dirty Ones

The most refreshing aspect of the Chase Grid format is how it has legitimately amped the aggression levels for those racing at the front of the field. The most notable examples were Brad Keselowski shooting the gap between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon at Texas or Ryan Newman bodyslamming Kyle Larson at Phoenix — both in the name of advancing in the playoffs.

The cleanliness of both moves continue to be a frequently-debated topic around water coolers and the garage area and it certainly has added a fascinating element to the on-track product. With everything on the line this weekend at Homestead, it will be interesting to see how far the second-place contender will go in the closing laps to dethrone his leading counterpart.

Everything that happens this season will set a precedence for future versions of the elimination playoffs. It would be a black mark on the format if contenders crashed themselves to ultimately decide the championship.

All told, perhaps a Ned Jarrett quote is best applied to Sunday’s race:

“Let’s hope [a big wreck] doesn’t happen today. Just some clean, hard racing and a lot of passing.”


NASCAR Cup Series

Logano Basking in Successful Changes to Career

By Kelly Crandall (DOVER, Del.) – Two years ago entering this weekend, @JoeyLogano sat 18th in points and all but out of a job.

Logano had earned three career wins but never more than one in a season. He was not a championship contender. Consistency was hard to come by. Now, however, entering the third race of the 2014 Chase and the first round of eliminations, Logano has reached the opposite end of the spectrum.

“I haven’t had a minute to sit down and think about it because I live in the moment,” Logano said on Friday. “I just keep going with it. Looking back at it some, it is cool. A few years back, only a couple of years ago I really didn’t have a job.

“It was like, ‘Oh boy, what am I gonna do? Am I gonna race the rest of my life? What’s Plan B?’ And all of a sudden I’m sitting in a good position.”

The 24-year-old comes into Dover International Speedway a legitimate contender for the championship. He’s second in points behind teammate Brad @Keselowski, and both will be advancing to the next round of the Chase.

Through 28 races, Logano has also been victorious four times. But many of Logano’s numbers this season – with eight races remaining – are vastly improved from years past. Top-fives, laps led, average start and average finish.

And this week Team Penske signed him to a contract extension that will keep him in the No. 22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford for a few more years.

“I’ve got a multi-year deal that I’m gonna be racing for awhile. I’m winning races. We’ve got a lot of top-fives,” he said. “If you would have told me all of this was gonna happen a couple years ago I would have said, ‘Yeah, that’s nice. I don’t know if that will happen, but it sounds really good.’ But that hard work is paying off now.”

Following the 2012 season, Logano left Joe Gibbs Racing for Penske. At the time, Joe Gibbs had been the only owner Logano ever worked and knew since he was old enough to drive. He came up through their system of both the K&N Pro Series West and East, the East where he won five races, Rookie of the Year and the championship in 2007. Then to the Nationwide Series where he won in his third start, Kentucky of 2008.

Except he was left out in the cold, and many predicted to be out of the sport, when @MattKenseth came over before the 2013 season. While Logano had good times at Gibbs, and he got along with his teammates, Penske and Brad Keselowski earned for him to join the organization. Keselowski, it’s been well documented, championed for the cause of his hiring.

In the end, it’s worked out well for all involved. Logano, who will get married after the season, has seen his career develop as it was once projected many years ago.

“You talk about the experience I got from all that and I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. I love that I Went through each and every experience that I’ve gone through because that’s what shaped me into who I am and the driver and person that I am now,” Logano said.

“I’m proud that I went through all of it. It was hard, but did I think I’d be sitting here a couple of years ago saying what I’m saying right now? Probably not, but I’m gonna enjoy the ride while I can, that’s for sure.”




Keselowski with Plenty to Race For Despite ‘Bye’

By Matt Weaver — Brad @Keselowski has entered unknown territory in regards to the Chase for the Championship. With his victory on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion now has a first round bye of sorts for the next two events at New Hampshire and Dover.

This is a prospect that no other driver has faced since the introduction of a playoff system back in 2004 and how he and his team attack those two races will be a fascinating subplot for the remainder of the Challenger Round.

The immediate reaction from most onlookers is that Keselowski will not have much to race for until the start of the Contender Round but a deeper look shows that this isn’t quite the case. Despite having an automatic berth into the Round of 12, Keselowski and crew have much to gain and lose over the next two races.

The first involves his teammate, @JoeyLogano.

While Keselowski is guaranteed an automatic berth into the next bracket, Logano has not yet earned the same luxury. Despite a very impressive fourth-place showing in Joliet, Logano has only a 20-point advantage over the elimination cutoff. While that by itself is a pretty sizeable cushion, Logano is one cut tire (or Morgan Shepherd) away from dropping into the danger zone.

The best case scenario for Logano is to win outright on Sunday or continue posting top-10s. It’s an achievable goal that the Miller Lite crew can now devote extra time to given their victory, should Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon require backup.

Don’t forget that Keselowski led 138 laps at Loudon in July, making him and Paul Wolfe a valuable asset in terms of both data acquisition over the weekend and as a chess piece on race day. While that may come too close to team orders for some to approve, it is an advantage that Team Penske earned on Sunday by winning the playoff-opening event.

The second reason for Keselowski to continue digging, simply put, is because that is what drivers and race teams do.

Wolfe explained on Sunday that the victory will not change their approach for the remainder of the first round. And in the same way that a victory in the third race of the season didn’t change how they continued pressing for three more regular season victories, don’t expect Keselowski to lift in preparation for Kansas in three weeks.

Lastly, the 2014 season has presented the “Blanco Dos” team to make a statement against perennial championship contenders like Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart Haas Racing. Think again if you don’t believe Keselowski doesn’t want to send the message that he can beat them head-to-head more times than not.

In addition to the psychological benefit it may provide him in the weeks leading up to the Homestead Championship Race, it is also advantageous of Keselowski to win the next two races just to prevent a rival from earning the same luxury and comfort he is currently enjoying with his two-week bye. Doing so could force the likes of a @JeffGordonWeb, @JimmieJohnson or @KevinHarvick to make a mistake and conceivably miss the second round altogether.

This argument doesn’t even include the mysterious and intangible momentum that Keselowski and company currently have and shouldn’t readily relinquish. The No. 2 team is in a unique position for the next few weeks in not having to battle their way into the second round.

But conventional wisdom suggests they should race just the same.

More from Popular Speed


Reactions: Bristol Night Race

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn.) — It’s been written here before that this is one of the best times of the year to be a NASCAR fan and the Bristol Night Race proved it once again as the Race to the Chase took numerous dramatic turns in the rolling hills of Thunder Valley.

@JoeyLogano held off Brad @Keselowski over the closing laps to win the Irwin Tools Bristol Bristol Night Race — an event he called one of the biggest mama jamas of them all upon taking his seat in the media center for his media debrief.

Going to Victory Lane in the Night Race is cool enough, no doubt, but Logano also made several other notable statements (verbal and otherwise) on Saturday in regards to his current place on sport’s totem pole.

Those who follow the sport regularly inherently understand that Logano has the speed and momentum to win a championship but his third win of the season felt like the first public coming-of-age moment for the former wunderkind dubbed Sliced Bread. Only the toughest of the tough win at Bristol — names like Earnhardt, Wallace, Gordon and Jarrett — bonafide Sprint Cup Series champions.

On Saturday, Logano out-dueled another champion in his teammate Keselowski in yet another display of power from Team Penske as they once again prepare to take on NASCAR’s traditional juggernauts, Hendrick Motorsports, in the ever-approaching Chase for the Championship.

For whatever reason, Logano has been greatly overshadowed — at least publicly — by Keselowski this season. Even during the post-race press conference, both teammates were peppered with questions about Logano’s readiness to contend and if he has been underrated in advance of the remaining 12 races.

After all, entering this season, Logano was fresh off his first playoff appearance and had never won more than a single race in a given season. This year is remarkably different though as Logano has found a home in Team Penske and with crew chief Todd Gordon.

And despite seven years of Sprint Cup experience, Logano is still just 24-years-ol and in the prime of his physical and mental acuity.

With his third win of the season, Logano ties Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Keselowski for the most in 2014 and is in a tie for the top seed two races away from the playoffs. His fourth place points ranking and 721 laps led this season are additional affirmations of his season, regardless of what those who are still thinking on him may think.

“I don’t care what they think of us,” Logano said. “We’re going to do what we’ve got to do. They can underestimate us. They can overestimate us if they want and I don’t really care. We’re going to go out there and do the best we can, do what we’ve been doing … It’s definitely the best shot I’ve ever had at winning the championship, I can promise you that, so I feel very confident going into it.”

Logano has been blistering fast at every track this season and if not for a snafu on the final restart at Michigan, would likely be sitting on back-to-back victories and sole ownership of the top seed in the Chase.

It’s no secret that Logano was rushed to the Cup Series by Joe Gibbs Racing and that Logano wasn’t prepared at the time for the spotlight and scrutiny involved with driving the famous No. 20 entry. He admitted so to Popular Speed at the start of the season, in fact.

However, those formative years may be the key to his winning this championship this season.

At Gibbs, he replaced a champion in Tony Stewart and the whole world expected him to continue the trend. Paired with the architect of Smoke’s first two championships in Greg Zippadelli, Logano was issued the pressure of a two-time champion. Logano doesn’t appear to be sweating the pressure of the 2014 championship battle yet.

He’s never been more confident and comfortable in his career and much of that is likely owed to his tenure with Coach Gibbs. The inherent pressure of contending for a championship is all that Logano has ever known since his 2008 arrival.

Now it’s time for Logano to earn the hardware that goes with his newfound swagger.

Harvick v. Hamlin

One of the literal highlights of the Bristol Night Race on Saturday was the incident between Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin which occurred while the two were fighting for the lead in the middle stages of the race.

The details of the crash can be reviewed here but the short version was that Harvick lost his car under Hamlin and plowed into his fellow contender, an ordeal that ended Hamlin’s night right on the spot.

New NASCAR rules prevent a driver from leaving his car until after safety workers arrive on the scene, an obligation that Hamlin dutifully complied to but he still took his shot at the driver he believed wronged him. In traditional Bristol fashion but without leaving the track apron, Hamlin chunked his HANS device at Harvick’s No. 4, nailing it with the accuracy of a Stephen Strasburg fastball.

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp says he was unaware of whether or not Hamlin had committed actions detrimental to stock car racing. In short, it will be or has been reviewed.

The importance of safety cannot be understated in NASCAR but it’s my personal hope that the sanctioning body lets this one slide. Hamlin never left the comfort of safety workers and never stepped foot on the gray concrete racing surface. It’s Bristol Baby, and it ceases to be when these sort of emotional outbursts are eliminated from the equation.

The attendance on Saturday night at Bristol was one of the best from the past five years at the Last Great Coliseum and Hamlin surely sold some additional tickets for next year’s race, just as he did last season with his now ill-fated rivalry with Logano that began in the spring.

The Race to the Chase is On

As stated above, this is the best time of the season to be a NASCAR fan. As if the Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond swing isn’t entertaining enough on a micro level, the macro level and the implications of making the Chase have added a new layer of intrigue and excitement to the end of the regular season.

Based purely on points, it appears that the 16 Chase drivers are locked in with winless Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle pulling even further away from their pursuers on Saturday night. With that said, a Kyle Larson or Austin Dillon win over the next two weeks, not the most unrealistic outcome, would literally change everything.

The win and you’re in format has done exactly what it was advertised to do thus far and everyone on the outside looking in has to win the metaphorical games six and seven to make the Chase or be doomed to near-obscurity over the final 10 weeks of the season. Combine that with the resurgence of popular drivers like Earnhardt and Gordon and NASCAR has a real dream season brewing.

Enjoy the ride.

NASCAR Cup Series

Michigan Decided by Series of Late Restarts

By Matt Weaver — @JoeyLogano won every restart on Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway except the one that mattered most and it likely cost him his third win of the season.

Capitalizing on that final restart was Jeff Gordon, who once again struggled all day on the reset but prevailed on his final attempt and pulled away over the final 10 laps to win the Pure Michigan 400 in a fashion similar to his previous victory at Indianapolis.

Logano cleared both Gordon and Kurt Busch on the restarts with 26 and 22 laps to go respectively and claimed that he was bit by one too many of them Sunday, falling to Gordon on the final attempt with 14 laps remaining.

“We took off at the beginning of the race — pretty fast — leading a lot of laps,” Logano said after finishing third. “We just kept tightening the car up, getting a little bit better. And by the end, we were able to get the car pretty much where it needed to be.

“Then just restart after restart after restart — I won every single restart. I was on the front row except the last one so here I am. It’s just kind of frustrating.”

Gordon admitted during the pre-season media tour that restarts were the weakest part of his game and that he needed to address them to contend for a fifth championship. On Sunday, the 43-year-old veteran explained that an increased confidence in his cars have made the difference this season when it comes to restarts.

“I’ve got great race cars,” Gordon said. “That’s obvious. I’ve got a great crew chief that believes in what I’m doing out there and I believe in what he and the engineers are doing. Right now I feel like I’m driving smart, but also when it comes down to the restarts, I’m confident in my car enough that I can put it in places I haven’t been able to put it in the past and be a little bit more aggressive when it matters.”

Both Gordon and Logano accused the other of engaging in unfair tactics over the final three restarts but the race winner was quick to concede that Logano was merely playing within the confines of the NASCAR rule book when he slowed down coming out of Turn 4 and began accelerating short of the start-finish line.

“To (Joey’s) defense — these restart boxes — you used to have a line, all the way to the start-finish line and it was too big. It was causing issues so then they made the box (too small). I don’t know about other drivers, but I’ve asked them to make it bigger.

“As the leader, the other cars around you can anticipate when you’re going to take off. So Joey, as we rolled up to some of the restarts as guys were starting to anticipate it, he was slowing down. When he slowed down, everybody got bottled up.”

Race-winning crew chief Alan Gustafson felt that both drivers were aggressive while “not overstepping any boundaries” during the final three restarts. He said that what happened on Sunday happens every week in the Sprint Cup Series.

“We work so hard to win these races and restarts are such a big part of it,” Gustafson said. “If you can get clear, you’re probably going to win the race.

“Is Joey maybe not maintaining his speed consistently? Probably not. Do I blame him? No, I don’t blame him. Was Jeff making sure that Joey didn’t break his momentum? Yes. Do I blame him? No. They’re trying to win and I don’t feel like either one of them crossed the line.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Penske Official: We’re Right There With Hendrick

By Matt Weaver — If Travis Geisler is to be taken at his word, Team Penske is a legitimate threat to unseat Hendrick Motorsports as favorites to win the new-look Chase for the Championship.

As President of Competition for Team Penske, Geisler’s word carries a lot of weight. In fact, it carries the same weight at the one-two punch that drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have provided this season. Combined, the dynamic duo has posted three victories and has led at least one lap in every race this season for 953 total.

While only four teams will compete for the championship at Homestead Miami Speedway, Geisler believes only six teams have shown the muscle to get there and believes his two-car program is amongst them.

“I think if you look at it today, and everything can change by time we get there because this deal really ebbs and flows a lot, but I think (Kevin Harvick) and (Jimmie Johnson) are really the two main targets,” Geisler said. “Obviously (Jeff Gordon) and (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) have been running well and I feel like our cars are right there.”

Winning three races right out of the gate has really helped Penske prepare for the Chase in terms of testing and analyzing weaknesses according to Geisler, especially considering that the organization has all four of its test dates remaining.

“We would have had to use those at some of these tracks coming up if we were in the sport we were last year, where we didn’t have either car locked in at this point,” Geisler said. “We would be testing at some of the tracks coming up to make sure we could go and execute. But we know we can probably go to those tracks and run well and we’re most likely in the Chase with both cars so we’re focused on how to use those four tests at tracks in that last 10.”


Opinion: Start Cup Drivers at Back of Field in Nationwide/Truck Events


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Matt Weaver — Just west of Mobile, Ala. lies a historic half-mile bullring named Mobile International Speedway.

One of the star competitors of its popular Sportsman Division is a grizzled veteran named Steve Buttrick, whom over the past three years has firmly established himself as the ‘Man to Beat’ across the Gulf Coast.

At the height of his dominance, and after winning the first nine races at two local tracks, Buttrick opted to start in the back of the 23-car field so that he would be able to race against his rivals for once, a topic that applies to NASCAR more than you might think.

Enter Kyle Busch.

After winning yet another NASCAR ‘lower-tier’ event last weekend in the Camping World Truck Series at Daytona, Busch was again presented with criticism that his participation is a negative for the sport and the development of its prospects.

“People don’t like it (because they think) I’m stealing candy from a baby,” Busch said following that race. “(Until) the rules are changed or everybody else grows up and can beat me, then we’re racing.”

But the reality is that Busch isn’t racing against them more often than not and is in fact stealing candy from the metaphorical baby. More to the point, it’s killing the Nationwide and Truck tours in the process.

The younger Busch brother entered 26 races last season in the Nationwide Series, winning a remarkable 12 times at an astounding 46 percent success rate.

Other Sprint Cup standouts Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano posted an additional 12 victories, leaving just seven races in which non-Cup drivers were able to break through to Victory Lane. Eventual Series champion Austin Dillon wasn’t even able to score a single victory over the course of the season.

It’s not the Cup drivers participation nor the winning that is most problematic — it’s the style in which they’ve done it over the past five years as the Nationwide Series has continually evolved into a Diet Cup campaign.

Backed by their premier division employers and fueled by considerably larger budgets, Cup drivers qualify up front and they stay there. This completely debunks the long-standing notion that Nationwide regulars benefit from competing against their ‘Major League’ counterparts.

But the truth is that they don’t race against each other at all with the line separating the haves from the have-nots forming somewhere near sixth-place on any given Saturday.

Despite its growing popularity, eliminating or otherwise limiting Cup drivers from the field isn’t the solution. Sponsors truly rely on Cup drivers to sell their products during the Nationwide races and in exchange allow for unheralded prospects to race part of the schedule.

So what’s the solution?

Instead of departing the truck and Nationwide tours, Busch and his counterparts need to take a cue from Steve Buttrick and start at the rear of the field.

In the grand scheme of things, starting Cup drivers in the back for the start won’t change the outcome — and that’s the point. The best teams will still win the majority of races over the course of 300 miles but the quality of racing will drastically improve in the process.

Suddenly, Cup drivers will have to race their way to the front, and in turn, drive fender-to-fender with the championship contenders and prospects that need the attention the more than anyone on Saturdays. Such a format has the potential to put prospects in Victory Lane with increasing frequency and increase their viability in an era where sponsors want little to do with them.

But more than anything else, the current product isn’t working. Consider this a plea for NASCAR to follow the lead of Steve Buttrick and start Sprint Cup drivers in the back of the field.



NASCAR Cup Series

Going the Distance … with Joey Logano

Each week, Popular Speed will ask a different NASCAR personality 10 questions about their career, lifestyle or off-beat personality traits. Next up: Team Penske Sprint Cup Series contender, Joey Logano.

Popular Speed:  Do you still feel the novelty or aura of getting to a race track each week?

Joey Logano: I still think it’s cool. I mean, every time I get to the track, I tell myself “this is cool.” But it’s also my job. This is how I make a living — this is work. But I get to drive a race car so that’s kind of cool. But when you start to think of it as a hobby, you don’t work on it as hard so you have to look at it as a job.

PS: What attracted you to motorsports in the first place?

JL: I can’t say that I remember truthfully. I just always liked racing. I got a go-kart when I was little for Christmas and thought it was the coolest thing in the world. That’s all I did was drive that kart around. I drove it in circles around the back yard , drove it down the road and made laps where ever. (laughs)

PS: Do you have any superstitious items or practices you take with you in the car prior to a race?

JL: Umm, no. I don’t/ That stuff never works.

PS: (Alex) Bowman told me last week that he doesn’t want to use it as a crutch. Is it the same for you.

JL: Nah, man. That’s just a waste of time. I don’t have time for that.

PS: Did you ever take an aptitude test in high school and what did it tell you that you should pursue as a career?

JL: I didn’t because I was home-schooled. I was lucky that my parents let me do what I wanted and I was doing well in racing, winning a lot of the time and they let me follow my dreams — what’s better than that? So I kind of banked on racing because you have to give it 100 percent.

If I didn’t give 100 percent, I wouldn’t be here and it wouldn’t have worked out. I gave this 100 percent and if for whatever reason it still doesn’t work out, I think I’ve learned a ton and received an education at such a young age and you can do a lot with it.

PS: What is the one make or break moment of your career thus far?

JL: I look at the Pro Cup race I won at Mansfield — that’s what kind of set Mark Martin off at Dover during that rain delay, where he said that I should drive his car. That was a big deal for my career to really get it going. Would I be here if not for that? I don’t know. I would say no. Winning all those Nationwide Series races right out of the gate in a car that could win was important too. Those are the moments that stand out to me.

PS: Do you have any bucket list tracks that you feel like you need to visit before your career is done?

JL: Some of those Formula 1 tracks are amazing. But realistically, I have knocked most of those tracks off my bucket list since moving up to NASCAR. This was my dream, you know? I can’t think of too many places that I feel like I need to go to at this stage.

PS: Which F1 track?

JL: They’re all amazing. They look great. It would be really cool to go to one — to even just watch. That would be really cool.

PS: Driving for The Captain (Roger Penske), is there any chance you could knock the Indianapolis 500 off that bucket list?

JL: Not in the near future. I don’t see myself doing it. I won’t say never but not right now. It goes back to the distraction thing and not focusing on things you may not be good at.

PS: For those who don’t know, how did the ‘Sliced Bread’ nickname come about?

JL: That’s a Randy Lajoie thing. Anyone who knows Randy will tell you that he has a nickname for everybody. That one kind of stuck with me. I’ve been called much worse things so I kind of just rolled with it.

PS: So it never put any pressure on you to exceed those expectations?

JL: No, my own expectations are higher than that. That stuff just doesn’t bother me. I put all the pressure on myself that I need to get stuff done.

Previous Going the Distance Q&As

Daytona: Alex Bowman