Joey Logano: ‘We’re ready’ to win Sprint Cup championship

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JOLIET, Ill. – Can’t miss. A future champion. Even a multiple champion down the road.

Joey Logano heard all those predictions and compliments and more during the first few seasons in the Sprint Cup Series, with some of the biggest names in the sport touting his ability and future, including former boss Joe Gibbs, mentor Mark Martin and current boss Roger Penske.

“It adds a lot of pressure, but I’ve kind of gotten used to that pressure,” said Logano, who is a legitimate contender to win the Cup championship this season. “It’s pretty neat to have that stature of people (talk about him) like Roger Penske, Joe Gibbs, Mark Martin.

“For them to say something like that, it’s awesome. And then you try to live up to it. It was hard before, but I’ve been able to hit my stride here lately and been able to figure it out.

“But it’s really cool to hear people like that say something about you. To me, a champion is not just winning this thing, it’s being a champion in life, that you take on that responsibility when you do that this year, and I feel I’m ready for it.”

So that means the guy that has carried the nickname “Sliced Bread” is now ready to go for the whole loaf and win the 2014 Sprint Cup championship.

“I feel like, hey, I’ve got a shot at this, people are talking and we’re one of the top contenders at this thing,” Logano said. “I believe that and my whole team believes that and we’re going to fight to the end to make this a dream season the best we can.

“It’s been a dream come true. If you told me that three years ago, I’d have said ‘cool,’ but I’d also probably have said you were crazy, too. But that’s what makes this moment special: we have a real shot at winning the championship this year.”

A number of elements have brought Logano to the position he’s in heading into Sunday’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

He’s matured as a driver, learned from past mistakes, has become more comfortable with teammate Brad Keselowski and has strengthened the second-year relationship with crew chief Todd Gordon.

“I could never say I had that before, ever,” Logano said. “Having a second year with Todd and working with this 22 team, they’re ready, they’re pumped up about it. I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else right now, to do it right now, and I feel like we can.

“We want to hit Chicago and hit it hard. We sat on the pole last year, led a lot of laps until our motor blew up, but we were fast.

“This year, we’ve learned a lot from our mistakes, not only from what we did (in last year’s Chase) but what was done at all these other tracks and how we had to get better at them. That chemistry between Todd and myself, building that notebook, we understand each other a lot better now.

“My team’s awesome. I’ve never been with a group of guys like this before. They’ve done great and I feel great about it. I feel very confident we can do it this year.

“We’re ready for it, man. We’re ready.”

We’ll find out if that’s true starting Sunday.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.