When it comes to contact during a Sprint Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, Joey Logano kind of subscribes to the theory of “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
In other words, Logano will give opposing drivers a break when it comes to initial contact between his No. 22 Penske Ford and someone else.
After that, though, all bets are off.
“The first one is always an accident and then after that I don’t know how much is an accident,” Logano said with a big laugh Friday during his media session at Sonoma, the host for Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
After regaining his composure, Logano drew a bit more serious in his thoughts about contact during Sunday’s race. And as he’s learned in five previous starts at Sonoma, the more that’s on the line for drivers, the more pressure there will be and – ergo – more contact, more beating and banging and more chance to have a good day go bad very quickly.
“Usually, we all try to start the race calm, cool and collected,” Logano said. “Everyone is kind of just running their deal and then one person gets hit and gets knocked out of the way and then he’s mad, and then he hits someone else and now the next guy is mad, so that just triggers it off and there you go.”
In other words, road rage at its finest, right, Joey?
“I think everyone starts with the right attitude and then at the end all manners are out the window and it’s all about just getting those positions,” Logano said. “Like I said, there are four or five people that are pretty calm that might not have a mark on their race car because everyone else is gonna get beat around and when you get beat around you get ticked off. It happens.”
With two wins thus far this season, Logano is comfortably locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. But even with that assurance, he still is seeking his first road course win in Sprint Cup.
He’s definitely been building towards that achievement, with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th in his last three starts at Sonoma. That’s a far cry from his first two efforts of 19th (2009) and 33rd (2010), when he hadn’t quite developed the love affair he has for the track and the fans there as he has the last few years.
“I like coming here,” Logano said. “It’s such a fun race track for us and obviously a change-up for NASCAR to come to these road courses. Sonoma, I always felt is kind of like the short track of road course racing for me.”
But Sunday can be a dangerous race for someone like Logano. Even though he’s comfortably in the Chase, he can’t take it easy. Rather, he has to approach Sunday’s race as if he’s in the same boat as every other driver who is starting to fret about not making the Chase.
“Look at the guys that are good at these road courses and you look at the guys that haven’t won yet this season,” Logano said. “They’re starting to get desperate, I’m sure. They’re starting to get to that panic mode at this point in the season and if this is one of those race tracks where you feel you can capitalize on, and you’re close to it, they’re gonna be desperate and they’re gonna do some crazy things out there. So that’s why it’s so important to be on the aggressive side.
“I want to be the guy pushing. I don’t want to be the guy getting pushed around. You’ve got to make sure you’ve got a car you can do that with because it’s easier said than done. If you’re the guy running up front, and you look at the top three, four, five cars, they will be ones that won’t have many marks on it, so you’ve got to be consistently up there.
“You’ve got to be patient. You can’t get too fired up, but you’ve got to be the aggressive one and I think those guys that haven’t had the win are gonna get desperate and it’s gonna be either checkers or wreckers for them. Hopefully, I’m far enough ahead that it’s not a problem.”
When asked how much better he’s gotten at Sonoma particularly and as a road course driver overall during his first five-plus seasons as a Sprint Cup driver, Logano was quick to admit, “Quite a bit.”
“I didn’t do any road course racing growing up,” he added. “I was always a short track, asphalt racer. I did a few schools and worked with Boris (Said) some. I’ve worked with quite a few different drivers to try and figure this out and the first two times I think was really bad, and then I came here the third time and we put it on the pole and that was like the biggest surprise of my life. I was like, ‘How in the heck did we just get the pole in the Cup race at Sonoma? Go figure.’
“I was not expecting that and then we ran really well in that race and that was kind of like a light switch went off like, ‘OK, I think I get it now. I think I know what I’m supposed to do.’ If you don’t grow up doing it or haven’t raced a lot, it’s challenging, but any driver that gets to this level has a lot of talent and you’re able to figure it out.”
And figuring it out is the key to success at Sonoma. Strategies are plentiful: tire wear, fuel mileage, two or three pit stops in the race are just the high points.
“Strategy, passing each other, keeping the fenders on this thing, keeping it on the race track, it’s just such a challenging place and makes it a lot of fun,” Logano said. “Usually there’s about four or five guys that are smiling after the race and everyone else is really mad at each other, so I can’t wait.”
For the record, Logano made that last statement with yet another broad smile on his face and laugh in his voice.
Let’s see if he’ll still be laughing and smiling after Sunday’s race.
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