Liftoff for Logano: NASCAR driver comes to Dover on a roll

Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane with his wife, Brittany, and 4-month-old son Hudson after winning Sunday’s Monster Energy race at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR via Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

DOVER — Going a year without visiting victory lane can beat down even the most successful drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with escalating pressure from the team owner, sponsors and fans.

However, Joey Logano said the most pressure he felt during what had turned into a nearly year-long losing streak came directly from himself.

So Logano was more than a little relieved when he was able to finally take the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama last Sunday.

It was a definite turning point for the 27-year-old driver from Middletown, Connecticut, who got the opportunity to celebrate in victory lane for the first time with his son Hudson, who was born Jan. 4 and is just 4-months-old.

“I may have cried a little bit,” Logano said. “It’s just cool. It’s a different feeling. Everyone always says, ‘You won’t understand until you have kids.’ I always kind of shook my head, ‘OK.’

“Now having a little guy, seeing him there, he may not remember, but for me, that was very special. For (my wife) Brittany I hope it was, too. It’s something we’ll cherish forever. We’ll have a great family picture in victory lane at Talladega.”

Logano will get a chance to add to his family photo album if he can race his way to a second-consecutive victory in Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy Series race at Dover International Speedway.

The driver of the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Auto Trader Ford has driven his way to 18 Cup Series victories during a career that has already spanned 10 years — but has yet to win a Cup race at Dover.

He has managed to finish in the top 10 in 10 of his 18 career Cup Series starts and has won four times in the Xfinity Series on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

This time around, Logano is aiming for that big Monster Trophy that will be awarded at the finish of Sunday’s race.

“It’s a challenging track for everyone,” Logano said of Dover. “It’s probably the most physically demanding track we go to. You’re in the corners as much as you’re in the straightaways.

“I have some little Miles (the Monster) trophies at home. Hopefully, I’ll bring the big one home soon.”

Logano said that it’s been a while since he’d been able to talk about winning races.

It was at Richmond where he had scored his last win on April 30, 2017, before going into a 12-month skid. Even that win was ruled “encumbered” by NASCAR after his car failed to pass post-race inspection.

Logano failed to advance to NASCAR’s playoffs and eventually finished a disappointing 17th place in the final points standings.

“Obviously a lot of people ask that question millions of times, ‘What happened?,” Logano said, of his difficult year. “It’s still the same team. Not much has changed. It’s the same core group that’s made two amazing fights to almost win a championship. We stuck together for that reason.

“Any time you go through times of trial like that, that’s very challenging for everyone. If you can get through that together, you’re stronger. For that reason, I feel like my team’s never been stronger.”

Roger Penske, the owner of Logano’s race team, didn’t put the onus on the driver for the team’s sudden lack of production over the past year.

“I think the quality young man that he is, obviously it gnaws on you when you’re not in the winner’s circle,” Penske said. “I don’t think we had good enough cars for him last year at some point to help him execute, which didn’t help the situation.

“But he stayed on course. He’s a committed guy to the team and a long-term player with us. To me, you go through that in business. You have some bad years.”

It appears as if now Logano has returned to the conversation of possible Monster Energy Series champions, joining Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, who have both put together three-race winning streaks this season.

It turned out that the biggest change Logano’s team made to get better was to not change anything at all — and it finally paid off with a return to victory lane.

“It’s a great momentum builder,” said Todd Gordon, Logano’s crew chief. “I think as the season’s gone on, we’ve worked on trying to make ourselves better. We had a very difficult struggle through the year last year. I think everybody dug in in the off-season to figure out where we needed to go.”

That direction appears to be up.

“As a race team, we’ve been able to stick together through the tough times,” Logano said. “Hopefully all that’s over (and) we don’t have to wait another year and a race to get back (to victory lane). Not that I was counting (he said with a smile).”

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