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.”

Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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