Joey Logano worked the entire offseason to get back that 30-minute rush of adrenaline he felt after seeing the black-and-white checkered flag wave for him at the Daytona 500.
It’s a feeling he hasn’t experienced since 2015 when he won at 24 years old, becoming the second-youngest driver to claim NASCAR’s most prestigious race. And those fleeting moments of excitement, surrounded by family and friends in Victory Lane, are what the Penske driver craves to feel again.
“Knowing you have one shot at it and you have to wait a whole other year — year after year — for your next shot at it, there is no better feeling,” said Logano, grinning in a Washington conference room, in late January. “It is amazing, and it doesn’t last long.”
Logano is coming off a year he described as “unexpected,” missing the Cup Series playoffs for the first time since 2012 and finishing 17th in the driver standings. His 14 wins from 2014 to 2016 were tied for the most in the Cup Series.
Sunday’s 60th running of the Daytona 500 will be Logano’s first shot to get back on track as his 10th full-time season in the Cup Series begins. Come race day, he will again be surrounded by family, with his parents having driven their motor home down for the week, and his wife, Brittany, and their newborn baby boy, Hudson, also by his side.
“You can win all these other races, which is great, but there is no race that has that same feeling than winning the Daytona 500,” said Logano, who qualified fifth. “Maybe winning Miami and winning the championship might be the same — I don’t know yet.”
That’s the next goal for the 27-year-old: a championship. It’s something the 6-year-old version of Logano dreamed about when he started out as a quarter midget racer, as he fell in love with the sport’s “bumping and banging and sliding around.”
Logano has gotten close, advancing to the final race for the series title in 2014 and 2016; he was the runner-up in 2016 to Jimmie Johnson. Yet the pressure the always-smiling Logano may feel to win is all internal.
“I want to compete and win for me,” said Logano, who has a long-term deal with Team Penske to race for the organization through 2022. “I want to do it for my team. I want to do it for us.”
Since the last race of 2017, Logano has been readying himself to get back on the track. He used the latest simulation technology to train, and he is adjusting to changes made by his team and NASCAR.
This year, he not only has a new spotter but also one fewer person in his pit crew under new rules for the Cup Series. He said he’s excited to continue racing under NASCAR’s stage racing format, introduced last season.
The format brought higher stakes to each race as drivers fought for playoff eligibility and to win the championship, which Logano said he sees as the “biggest win the sport has had in the last 15 years.”
There are three stages to each race, with the third deciding the winner.
“That is real, authentic drama that is built up in our sport,” Logano said. “It causes all the drivers to hate each other. Good. It kind of gets to that point, and that is great. There is nothing wrong with that. The sport should be like that, because there is so much on the line every race.”
That was clearly the case when Logano got into a scuffle with Kyle Busch in March following the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Contact between the drivers on the final lap led Busch to confront Logano after they got out of their cars.
“Doesn’t every sport love that?” Logano asked, referring to rivalries on the track. “People love that stuff. But the thing is, it has to be real. This isn’t WWE. This is the real deal and it needs to be real and organic, and I think this format allows it to be like that.”
The Daytona 500, as always, starts this year’s Cup Series. For Logano, it’s the track where his heart beats fastest — according to a heart-rate monitor he wore last year, at least — and the track his mother worries the most about, because it lends itself to higher speeds. This year’s race also is anticipated to have the youngest average starting lineup in the modern era of NASCAR, and it will be missing Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired in November.
Logano will be eyeing his 19th Cup Series victory, and his preparation leading up to the biggest race of the year made him confident about his prospects.
“If you can get some momentum and win the Daytona 500 right off the bat . . . it’s a snowball effect and keeps going and going,” he said. “It’s a big deal for us to go down there and run well.”