Joey Logano can't wait to run on 'my best racetrack'

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Penske driver Joey Logano qualifies 11th for Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.

Brooklyn, Mich. — About 30 minutes before he got into his Sprint Cup car for the first time at Michigan International Speedway this season, Joey Logano talked about his expectations for race weekend.

"We'll know how the car is here in a little bit," Logano said. "You never know until you get out on the racetrack.

"But Michigan, in my years with Team Penske, has probably been my best racetrack. So, I'm always excited when we get to come here."

The 25-year-old native of Middletown, Conn., has been around for a decade since veteran NASCAR driver Mark Martin proclaimed "He's the man," and gave him an early, unexpected ride in the Sprint Cup series.

Logano's career has proceeded in fits and starts. But his performance is so solid now that given the right car, there is little doubt he could be a champion.

He says he would really like to do that for Roger Penske. The owner trusted him when his first drive in Sprint Cup, for Joe Gibbs, disappointed everyone, including Logano.

He broke into the series like someone lit off the whole box of fireworks at once.

He was the youngest in history, 18 years 21 days, to win in the Xfinity Series (then the Nationwide). Then, he became the youngest in history, 19 years 35 days, to win in the Sprint Cup series.

Logano earned the nickname, "Sliced Bread." Around the garages, they said it fit because he was touted as "the best thing since ...."

But four laggard years at Joe Gibbs Racing got some thinking of him as an ignition spark that failed to fire the engine.

When all seemed lost, Brad Keselowski got Logano another ride in both series, and Penske liked what he saw.

"He was a young guy in the crowd," Penske said after Logano won the Daytona 500 this season. "Brad was a big part of it, and it's paid off in spades.

"You saw what he did last year," Penske said of Logano's five wins. "This is just the start. I think he's going to be a guy at the top for a while."

Logano finished fourth in Sprint Cup last year, just ahead of Keselowski

He enters this weekend fourth, two slots in front of the Keselowski, the former champion, after the first in Daytona and five other top-five finishes in 14 races.

On Friday, Logano qualified 11th for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400. Keselowski qualified third.

Logano is not only yearning for his first championship after coming close in 2014 only to have a horrible pit stop snuff out any chance. He also hopes to restart the season for Team Penske after a bit of a slump.

Through the first seven races the Penske drivers had 13 top-10 finishes. (Keselowski won at Fontana, Calif.)

Since then, there have been no victories and only five top-10 finishes, the next seven races.

The shy Logano — who married his childhood sweetheart in the offseason and said he might need some instructions on how to party after winning the Daytona 500 — admits he probably broke into NASCAR too soon.

"I didn't know what I had to do," he said.

"Team Penske is the best move of my career, obviously. They just set you up to succeed."

Penske, now 78, is famous for giving his drivers the same car, and for a team approach to preparing them.

Some teams move to separate areas of the garage to keep things secret.

Not at Penske.

In addition to the timing of the schedule, winning at Michigan International Speedway is important to all the drivers because the competition is in the shadow of the Motor City and the world headquarters of two of the manufacturers, Ford and Chevrolet.

And the guys at the wheels and throttles of the Toyotas like nothing better than upsetting the party.

"Obviously, for Team Penske, for Roger Penske, this is their backyard," Logano said. "This is where we really want to win, for them. And, obviously, for Ford.

"We know the manufacturers really take a lot of pride in winning at this racetrack. So we put our best foot forward, for this one, and try to give it everything we've got."

Logano stands a good chance of winning. No driver has led more laps at MIS since the track was repaved before the 2012 season.

He won the Pure Michigan 400 in August 2013.

"The things is, it's always been a fun race," Logano said. "And it's fun watching this racetrack widen out, and watching it for the way the strategy works throughout it."

By widening out, drivers, owners and crew mean the "racing groove" is getting wider, as the new pavement wears in.

"It's fast, too," Logano said, stating the obvious with a bit of understatement about what is arguably the fastest track in NASCAR.

The track is still developing the racing groove, while the drivers are still settling in with a new design of the cars, this season. The new formulation for the cars brought less horsepower and drag, and an internal track bar adjustment, which allows the drivers to change how the car corners without pitting.

"You know, it will be interesting to see what this new rules package does here," Logano said. "What our speeds will be entering the corners. With the less drag, will we have less power?

"So, it will be interesting to see how that all plays out, and how the race will play out."