After two close calls, Joey Logano ready for 1st NASCAR Cup title

Joey Logano won at Talladega last fall, one of his three consecutive victories in the Chase.
Joey Logano won at Talladega last fall, one of his three consecutive victories in the Chase. AP

Joey Logano can only hope this NASCAR Sprint Cup season begins as well as the 2015 campaign.

But he hopes it ends better.

Last year Logano won the season-opening Daytona 500, the biggest and most significant victory of his career. He remained a force throughout the regular season, then put together a stretch of dominance during the Chase that placed him in prime position to win his first title.

That all ended for Logano in a mass of twisted metal in the first turn of Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.

Logano had been wrecked by Matt Kenseth, in apparent retaliation for when Logano bumped then-leader Kenseth out of the way two weeks earlier at Kansas Speedway.

Logano went on to win the Kansas race and the next week at Talladega, his third victory in a row and a sweep of the Chase’s three second-round races. But when Kenseth effectively ended his day the following week at Martinsville, so did Logano’s title chances.

We know what it takes to win this whole thing. We have been right on that edge.

Joey Logano

Now it’s time to for Logano to think about getting back to that position again, starting with Sunday’s qualifying for next week’s Daytona 500. He had the fastest speed (195.933 mph) during Saturday’s second practice session.

“We want to get back to that point so we want to get moving forward and all, but as far as where we are at now, we are focused on the race ahead of us,” Logano told reporters Friday at Daytona. “We can’t look too far down the road. We have to get there first. We have to make the Chase. We need to win races again. We are starting back at zero.

“There are no guarantees that we have a season like we did last year. I hope we have a better season than we did last year. I don’t see any reasons why we shouldn’t but the fact of the matter is we are all at zero right now and we have to go through all these races to get there.”

Last season wasn’t Logano’s first close brush with a championship. In 2014, he was one of the final four in contention in the season finale at Homestead, but finished 16th in the race and ultimately fourth in the points standings.

Logano was in contention to win the past two Chase championships. But he came up short each time.

“It is motivation,” Logano said. “The last two years have been career seasons for me. I feel like we had two championship seasons without a trophy. We have a lot of confidence. We know what it takes to win this whole thing. We have been right on that edge. Arguably with the most wins last year we should have been there, but that is the way the format is and that is the way we play it and it is what it is.

“I feel like I learned a lot as a driver the last few years and what I need to do to make it happen. I feel like I’ve found new levels as a driver to reach. I know I am a silver-linings person, but I feel like that is something you have to have, that confidence and not get beat down. I feel like there is nothing to hold our heads down about. We have had two great seasons.”

Logano said he is as fired up as ever this season. That’s not a problem, he said, in his Team Penske shop.

“There is a guy, (owner) Roger Penske, and he keeps you from being complacent, I can promise you that,” said Logano. “He is a motivator. He pushes you forward and he doesn’t even have to say anything you just feel it. He expects us to go out there and perform. He made it clear to us that we had a great year but did not achieve our ultimate goal and we will give it another shot.

14 Career victories in 255 races for Logano

Logano took on the villain’s role after he knocked Kenseth out of the way at Kansas last October. He was booed at each track the rest of the way, and the Martinsville crowd mostly cheered Kenseth when he exacted his revenge.

Kenseth and Logano have both met with NASCAR about the situation. Kenseth has said it’s time to move on. And although Logano hasn’t apologized for his role, he indicated recently that he learned from the experience.

“I know there are some things I need to work on as a person,” said Logano. “And I try to work on that every day.”

But Logano also offered this bit of insight to his mindset. Villain or not, he’s not changing.

“You can define me however you want to define me,” he said. “I am going to define myself the way I want to.”

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