Leaving Las Vegas, Joey Logano could manage a smile.
Logano didn’t have a great afternoon, finishing 16th in the Kobalt Tools 400, the third race of the new season. However, it takes only a look back at the first races of 2011 to see Logano’s new perspective.
Last season, Logano opened the schedule with finishes of 23rd, 33rd and 23rd, beginning what would become a season of struggle. He finished 24th in points without sniffing a race win.
Flash forward to this season, which has begun with relative sparkle. Logano was ninth at Daytona and 10th at Phoenix before last week’s 16th at Vegas.
He enters Bristol this weekend tied for eighth in points, marking the first time he’s spent three straight weeks in the top 10.
Logano said his team couldn’t find a competitive balance at Las Vegas.
“Either way, we were just as slow,” he said. “We just couldn't find any speed. It looks like our teammate Denny (Hamlin) fought a lot of the same things as us. He wasn't very fast, either.
“Either way, we salvaged something halfway decent out of it. I guess 16th could have been a lot worse. We were 21st during the last restart. We'll take something out of it."
Logano said he’s ready to race short-track style again.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to the short tracks and get back to what so many of us grew up doing, which is short track racing,” he said. “Bristol is a great place to race, and it’s actually gotten even better since they reworked the track a couple of years ago (2007). To be able to go there and race side-by-side with someone is a lot of fun, and it’s something that a few years ago, you never would have thought about being able to do.
“Before, it was a one-groove track, and if you got pushed up high, it was like a superspeedway and you would get freight-trained until you found a hole. Now, there are points in the race where you would rather be up in the high groove and get the run off the corner. It’s almost like you are racing at a Michigan and California and seeing a couple of different lines working for different cars throughout the course of the event. It’s crazy.”
That’s a word people have used about Bristol often.
“The biggest thing you have to be aware of at Bristol is just that – being aware,” Logano said. “It’s such a unique visual from the driver’s seat that you really don’t see very far ahead of you, especially in the corners. You just have to know what is going on and have to rely on your spotter to keep an eye open and make sure you stay out of trouble.
“I’ve always had really good cars at Bristol. I just don’t have the finishes to show for it. I feel like we will be better this year, and I think we can come out of there with a top 10. That’s big right now – to just keep getting top fives and top 10s and keep ourselves in the points race, especially early.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.