After rough stretch, Joey Logano looks to 'dig deeper' at MIS

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Joey Logano laughs during Friday's qualifying at Michigan International Speedway.

Brooklyn, Mich. — Joey Logano is the NASCAR Cup Series defending champion.

Logano also won the FireKeepers Casino 400 race at Michigan International Speedway this past June.

But the 29-year-old Logano has struggled since his second win of the season — he also won at Las Vegas in March — with an average finish of 15th place and just one top-five finish (third at Chicago) over the last seven races.

“Watkins Glen was just a horrible weekend, there is no excuse for that one,” said Logano, who finished 23rd last weekend on the street course. “Pocono we had our own set of issues that was a little bit unique, but we scored a bunch of stage points and didn’t get the finish we wanted. I could go through all the races and make an excuse for each one of them on why we finished where we did, but I wouldn’t say that our speed has been 15th.

“Really, I don’t feel like our speed has been that far off. I do feel like the field is closed up a lot over the last few weeks from what we had early in the season, which means we need to try to move ahead again. That is our biggest thing. As you get closer to the playoffs everyone is going to try to dig deeper down inside and find that little extra. We are getting to that point in the season where you have to start finding it and be ready to come out guns blazing and start the playoffs ready to rip.”

More: Michigan's Erik Jones has sturdy playoff position as he rides hot wheels to MIS

After Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at MIS, there will be three races left before the 10-race playoffs get underway Sept. 15 in Las Vegas.

Logano dominated the June race at MIS, leading 163 of the 200 laps. He qualified ninth for Sunday’s race at 189.255 mph. His Team Penske teammate, Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski, won the pole at 190.471 mph.

Logano feels he is as good or better than a year ago when he won the series title.

“I don’t feel like we are farther off or further ahead than we were last year when we won the championship, so I feel pretty good about it,” Logano said.

NASCAR put a new rules package into play this season where the cars have less horsepower and more drag and downforce. As a result, corner speeds are way up and straightaway speeds down, putting the draft in play more for drivers.

Sunday’s race will again have a new element to it with NASCAR putting PJ1 — an abrasive compound to the track to increase traction — into play on the outside of the track where lanes Nos. 4 and 5 would be. PJ1 was put on tracks at Kentucky Speedway and Pocono earlier this summer.

“I have been all good with the PJ1 pretty much anywhere we have gone so far,” Logano said. “I think it has nothing but helped and improve the racing and widen the race track out. Obviously, it is the first time for it here and we were all in qualifying trim the first practice and we didn’t touch it. I watched Truck practice and it looked like they were flirting with it, but they haven’t committed to it yet. It looks like it might be a little high up there.

“I think NASCAR has done a good job at trying to have the drivers, Goodyear and the teams to collaborate and understand what is the best place to put it to improve the racing — even after the race coming back to you to ask what we think and trying to grow a notebook on how to improve it.

“I don’t think the product is awful to start with, but if we widen the track out and make more room to build runs and see more three-wide racing to where when the guys get to the outside is just hanging on and loses 10 spots on a restart. The PJ1 is something that we are all still learning about and we are learning about how it works at each surface. It works different at Charlotte than it does at Michigan or Bristol or Kentucky.”

More: Keselowski determined to win in home state after a career of 'almost’ at MIS

Logano has three wins at MIS, but teammate Keselowski is still looking for his first NASCAR Cup Series win at MIS, going 0-for-20.

Still, Keselowski has been close, including a sixth-place finish in June when a problem cost him a chance at a win.

“This is a good racetrack for Team Penske and the 22 team in particular,” Logano said. “You have to be willing to adapt because what it took to win here in the spring was completely different than what it took to win here the last few times. You just have to be willing to change it up, and it will be different than the spring race.

“A lot of teams brought different cars back and different body builds. Everyone learned a lot in the spring race that will affect the race and the traction compound (PJ1) up there, that can put a whole new set of questions into play. You just have to be willing to adapt even though it is a good track and you want to kind of continue that trend of what has worked for you and keep going with it, you have to be willing to step outside the box as well.”

MIS race weekend

NASCAR TRUCK SERIES

CORRIGAN OIL 200

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 9:35 a.m. (FS2), race, 1 p.m. (FS1)

Race distance: 200 miles, 100 laps

2018 winner: Brett Moffitt

NASCAR CUP SERIES

CONSUMERS ENERGY 400

Schedule: Saturday, practice, 8:35 and 11:30 a.m.; Sunday, race, 3 p.m. (NBCSN)

Race distance: 400 miles, 200 laps

2018 winner: Kevin Harvick

david.goricki@detroitnews.com