Joey Logano happy to defy preseason expectations

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Going into last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, Joey Logano was the hottest driver in NASCAR. On the strength of six consecutive Top-10 finishes in the final seven regular season events – including a critical win at Michigan – he raced his way into the post-season.

But an engine failure in the Chase opener at Chicagoland crushed his championship hopes, and he eventually settled for eighth in points.

However, he figured he’d at least be higher up in the usual array of pre-season rankings going into 2014.

That didn’t happen though, from his perspective.

“This offseason, all the magazines come out and project where you are going to finish and they had us in 15th and I was like, ‘Why?’,” Logano explained Friday at Darlington Raceway. “I was reading NASCAR Illustrated and wondered what the heck that was all about.

“I have set my goal as proving them wrong and so far, so good.”

Logano became the seventh different driver to win in as many races this season and the latest addition to the Chase Grid after defeating Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checkered finish on Monday at Texas Motor Speedway.

He’s also maintained a good degree of consistency with four Top-5s and just one finish outside the Top 20 in the first seven events. Additionally, he’s taken to the new, knockout-style qualifying format well with one pole and six Top-10 starts – making for an average starting position of 8.9 so far.

“It is important to come out here and run strong because we ended the year with momentum and we know we need to keep that going,” Logano said.

“With all the rules changes and everything changing this year, it was going to be a challenge but also an opportunity to capitalize on that and I feel Team Penske has done a great job with that – qualifying, aero, ride heights – we have been able to capitalize on all of that. We have been able to take that momentum through the off-season and keep it there.”

Darlington has, by Logano’s own admission, been a hit-or-miss track for him in his Sprint Cup career. After finishing in the Top 10 in his first Cup start there in 2009, he’s posted results of 27th, 35th, 10th, and 22nd.

However, while still very much wanting to win at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” the pressure’s eased off of him now that he’s joined teammate Brad Keselowski on the Chase Grid.

Logano touched on that subject, too, saying that he believes having both Team Penske drivers in the Chase will especially benefit in regards to testing.

“We will focus our tests to races in the Chase,” he said. “That makes sense. Really, when you are at the race track here, we are always trying different things and always trying to see what that next little piece is.

“With this new rules package, with the ride height rule, there is some low hanging fruit still to grab. We need to figure out what works best with these cars and we will be trying different things like we already do, so that doesn’t change.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).