Logano top contender again as he enters Dover race

DOVER — The way a season ends tends to stick with you a little longer than other races.

Joey Logano went into last year’s season-ending race at Homestead, Fla. with a chance to capture the NASCAR Sprint Cup title.

But, despite leading for much of the race, a late-race pit stop problem cost Logano and he ended up fourth in the final points standings.

Joey Logano talks with a crew member in the garage Friday. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Joey Logano talks with a crew member in the garage Friday. (Special to The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Logano jokes that he couldn’t forget that ending even if he tried.

“It’s there, you can’t hide from it,” he said. “If you try to forget about it, TV will remind you every time you turn it on or you listen to something or read something. You see it so you can’t really forget about it.

“But I think we all learned from it,” he added. “I think it was a great experience still. … We became better because of it.”

Of course the best way to leave something like that behind is to do what Logano did — start the 2015 season by winning the Daytona 500 for the first time.

The 25-year-old Connecticut native became the event’s second-youngest winner when he took the checkered flag in February.

So it’s hardly surprising that, as Logano comes to Dover this weekend, he’s right back where he was last summer, a top contender for the Sprint Cup crown. He’s currently third in the points standings, trailing only Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex, Jr.

Ever since he made his Sprint Cup debut as a teenager in 2008, Logano has had a lot expected of him.

He’s learned a lot since then.

“A lot of it is just understanding what you need in a racecar to go fast,” Logano said during a test session at Dover a few weeks ago. “I feel like I’ve got a great team behind me right now that gives me a car the way I want it to drive. They kind of focus in on the things that makes our racecar fast — not somebody else’s. We’ve seen some great results from that.”

In his first two full-time seasons with Team Penske, Logano went from eighth in the final standings in 2013, to fourth last year to third where he sits now. Clearly things are heading in the right direction for him.

Logano still owns just the one victory this season. But he’s finished in the Top 10 in nine of 12 races.

“We want to get more of those (wins),” he said. “Right now we’ve had decent speed in our cars. I think our cars are getting a little bit faster, which I think is good.”

That being said, Dover hasn’t always been kind to Logano. In 12 Cup races on the Monster Mile, he’s led just one lap here.

On the other hand, Logano finished in the top eight in his last four Dover races. That includes a fourth-place finish last fall.

“This track is very demanding physically,” said Lagano. “This is one of the racetracks, when you get done, you’re like, ‘I’m shot.’ It’s a tough one.

“You think of the ‘G’ forces you pull here. It’s very intense, you’re right on the edge. You have 400 laps around this joint. It’s a long race. There’s a lot going on. You can’t afford to make mistakes. It’s one of those racetracks that, to me, as a driver, you feel like you’re going fast. It’s weird as it sounds, you get used to going 200 miles an hour. But this place here, every time you’re done making a lap, you’re still huffing and puffing inside the car because you’ve got to work so hard.”

A racer since he was little, Logano is known for his focus on the sport.

Indeed, when he took part in a promotional softball game last month, he said it was the first time he’d played the sport. He joked that his nickname now is ‘Joey Double Play.’

The way things are going for him lately, that focus is really starting to pay off.

“I really like racing,” Logano said with a smile. “I enjoy doing other things and playing other sports but I don’t really get too into it. I really put 100 percent focus into what I do.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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