CUP: Sweeping Pocono Could Boost Logano

Article by Holly Cain,

Joey Logano burst on to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series scene full time in 2009, an 18-year old racing prodigy already hailed as “Sliced Bread” — as in, “The best thing since . . . ”

Instead, he’s in danger of getting stale after 3-1/2 mostly underwhelming years at the sport’s top level, where, he has discovered, there’s a big difference between getting there and performing.

As the series returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, Logano is ranked a season-low 17th in points, finds himself out of championship “Chase” mulligans and still is looking for a job for the 2013 season.

So it has never been more important to Logano to remind everyone why championship team owner Joe Gibbs gave him this elite opportunity, to display the kind of talent he demonstrated at Pocono eight weeks ago, when he put the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota on the pole and later into Victory Lane.

“We go into Pocono with a lot of confidence after winning there earlier this year,’’ Logano said this week, “We go every weekend to win. We can’t do any more or less for any other race.’’

Perhaps. But with only six races left to set the 12-driver playoff field, the clock is ticking.

Last week at Indianapolis, he spoiled a promising third-place starting position with an impatient move in the closing laps that not only dropped him in the points standings but collected then-points leader Matt Kenseth.

“A mistake for sure,’’ Logano said. “I got frustrated, and then I had the opportunity to pass a couple of cars there and just got in the corner too hot.

“You don’t want to have a bad race like that, but at the same time, it just makes us focus in on winning because that’s what we’ve got to do now.’’

Logano is 20 points behind 16th place Paul Menard in the standings. Three other drivers with at least one win are ahead of him in the hunt for the two wild-card positions. For a driver with only two career wins, collecting a second victory in the remaining six races is essential to trying to securing a wild-card spot.

Only six drivers have swept Pocono races in a season, the most recent being Logano’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in 2006.

“The points do matter,’’ Logano said. “But also the win is more important right now than anything.

“We are at the point, especially after last weekend that we have to win another race. We don’t have as much to lose at this point, so just go for it.’’

These are heady, high-pressure times for sure for the 22-year-old. Not only is he trying to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time, he’s racing for his livelihood — a job for next season.

“It’s a stressful environment out there,” Logano said of his employment prospects. “But at the same time, you need to do what you do best and all of that other stuff is going to come along with it eventually.

“I’ll focus on the racing part and during the week, see where the best opportunity is going to be for me and go with that.

"We have to take it up a notch.’’