CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Joey Logano probably knows his way around Kentucky Speedway better than any other driver headed there this weekend.
With three wins in three Nationwide Series starts at the track, Logano has reason to believe he’ll have a strong run in Saturday night’s inaugural Sprint Cup Series event at Kentucky. And a two-week wave of momentum has Logano excited at the opportunity to continue his surge in the standings — and maybe get himself in contention for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I’m pretty pumped to get back to Kentucky, for obvious reasons,” Logano said. “Kentucky has really felt like a second home to me over the last couple of years in the Nationwide Series. We’ve had pretty good success there.”
Logano sure could use some of that success in the Sprint Cup Series given that what was supposed to be a breakthrough third season hasn’t gone as planned for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
He was a popular pick to make the 12-driver Chase this season, based on how strong he was in closing out 2010. But a mediocre Daytona 500 — he finished 23rd — and an engine failure the next week at Phoenix dropped Logano to 29th in the standings.
Crew chief Greg Zipadelli has said this year’s tire combination has been hard on Logano, who has struggled finding the level of comfort he had at the end of last season.
“This tire has changed the way we’ve had to do a lot of things,” Zipadelli said two weeks ago. “It changed the way we do a lot of things and we haven’t found what we need to get him comfortable.”
Even Logano admitted he’s been struggling.
“I’ve been digging as hard as I possibly can. I’ve been confused,” Logano said. “I don’t know what to do different.”
Things began to turn two weeks ago at Sonoma, where hard work and tutoring from Max Papis paid off with a pole-winning run and a career-best sixth-place finish.
Then he went to Daytona last weekend and picked up his first career win there in Friday night’s Nationwide race. It was Logano’s first win of the year in NASCAR’s top two series. He followed it Saturday night with a third-place finish in the Cup race.
Those two strong weeks, and with Kentucky looming, have Logano finally feeling as if he’s back on the right track.
“The big thing is just having some momentum on your side. You’ll be amazed at what it can do,” Logano said. “I’m pretty pumped up.”
It couldn’t come at a better time.
Logano has been in the center of the rumor mill for almost two months as the NASCAR industry waits for Carl Edwards to make a decision about his future. Edwards is apparently mulling a move from Roush Fenway Racing to JGR, and it’s not clear how JGR would use Edwards.
Although the team has room to add a fourth car, sponsorship issues could make Edwards a replacement for Logano in the No. 20 Toyota. That could land Logano back in the Nationwide Series, or maybe loaned to JTG-Daughtery Racing to keep him in the Cup Series while JGR tries to figure out what to do with Logano.
Though it’s all speculative and dependent on Edwards, Logano can’t help but hear the talk, and he admits to spending time with Nationwide crew chief Adam Stevens searching for answers.
“You try not to think about that stuff,” Logano said. “That’s the stuff that doesn’t make your race car go any faster so it just makes you keep working harder. Adam knows. I sit in his office every week and I sit there and go, ‘What the heck are we doing wrong?’ I just keep asking questions and trying to figure it out. Hopefully this is what turns it around.”
Kentucky, which gives Logano a chance for a third consecutive strong week, could be what gets Logano into Victory Lane. At 20th in the standings, one win could be all it takes to get him into the Chase.
“There is definitely a lot of momentum on my team side,” Logano said. “Me, personally I needed a lot for self-confidence, but it definitely helps out a lot with the team, too. You know, not feeling as desperate out there in what we have to do. We definitely can relax out there and do what we need to do like we did last year.”