Joey Logano was red-hot to start off the 2017 season, eight top-10 finishes in the opening nine races, concluded by his victory at Richmond International Raceway after starting in the back.
Since his encumbered victory at the short track, it’s been a tale of two seasons for Logano and Team Penske.
In the past nine races, Logano has dropped from fourth in the championship standings, down to 12th and with new winners Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Ryan Blaney winning, stamping their name into the playoffs, it has put the No. 22 team in a vulnerable position. Coming into New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the 27-year-old sits seven markers behind Matt Kenseth for the final playoff position.
Because of the lack of speed Team Penske has shown over the past two months, Logano is surprised to be in the posiiton he is in, fighting for his playoff life.
“This isn’t what you expect when you start the season,” Logano said on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “You go out there expecting to win the championship and the playoffs you just assume you would be there. I still assume we are going to be there. We just have to work hard to get there.”
Since Richmond, Logano has two top-10 finishes, coming at Michigan International Speedway, where he finished third and last weekend at Kentucky Speedway finishing eighth. Over the past nine events, the No. 22 team has six finishes of 20th or worse (five-consecutive from Talladega Superspeedway through Pocono Raceway), including three outside the top-30.
But for Logano, the strategy has never changed.
“It is all race to race,” he said. “None of this is new. If you think about it, we do this throughout the playoffs. You have a cut-off every three races and you know the points are close. They will be closer this year than ever with the stages and how that works. I think of Phoenix [International Raceway] last year. We went into that race do or die and we won. Talladega was the same thing. Do or die and we won.
“We are going to get in a situation that is do or die and I have more faith in this team that it is going to happen than not. This team rises to the occasion for sure. When the pressure is on, they show up. It is just a matter of time before that happens.”
Because the performance at Team Penske has slid downhill after Richmond, even on the No. 2 team, as Brad Keselowski has crashed in four of the past eight events, many would speculate that the infraction hurt the organization more than what is visible. Logano put an end to that.
“I think we know what it is and I don’t think it is that,” he said. “That was so small that it didn’t make our car faster. That is the unfortunate part. it wasn’t something we were trying to do, it was something that happened after the race and it was a 32nd-of-an-inch. It wasn’t making our car faster.
“There were some different modifications to our bodies that NASCAR started regulating that took some performance away from our cars and we have to try to make that up. That is kind of the biggest thing right now. We are trying to figure out how to make that speed up. It is nothing from Richmond that would affect what happened.”
Logano heads into New Hampshire as a former winner, picking up his first-career victory at his home tack in his rookie campaign (2009). Since then. he has scored another victory (2009), en route to battling for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
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