Joey Logano has floated around the edges of qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for months.
Now it’s go time.
Entering Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International in New York, Logano sits 17th in Sprint Cup points and fifth in the wild card standings. He, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch all have one win in the second 10 in points, but Gordon currently holds the second wild card (behind Kasey Kahne, who has two wins).
Logano trails Newman and Busch in points, so he’s last among the one-win drivers in the wild-card group.
It has been a busy summer for Logano, who broke into the win column with a super-strong run in June at Pocono. In addition to targeting the Chase, he’s been in the middle of conversations about his long-term future in the sport and whether that will occur at Joe Gibbs Racing or elsewhere.
His next big step toward the Chase could be made this weekend at Watkins Glen International, where Logano has one top-five run in three races.
“It’s always a lot of fun to go back to the road course races,” Logano said. “It gives you a little break from the regular oval events and really lets you work it. I feel like we’ve gotten a lot better over the last few years at the road courses, and we are coming off of a top-five finish at Watkins Glen last season.
“The more I drive these road course events, the better I feel at them and the more comfortable I am. It used to be there were three or four guys who just dominated at these road courses, but really, everyone has gotten so much better and the cars keep getting better. I think there are 10 to 15 guys, if not more, who could go out there and win at a road course. I like to think I’m in that category, too.”
Logano was fifth in the last year’s race at the Glen.
Although Logano’s experience level at the 2.25-mile road course is limited, he’ll add a few more miles by running in Saturday’s Nationwide race. He finished second and third in the last two Nationwide races at the Glen.
“Every weekend, the extra track time helps you but maybe even more on these weekends,” he said. “You don’t drive them exactly the same and your braking points are different, but you can still learn stuff about how to enter a corner different or how to make a pass better in this section when you have more track time.
“Plus, it just helps polish your skills. So, I’m looking forward to Watkins Glen. I don’t think I’d be out of line to say if we have a good handling car and I don’t make any big mistakes on the track that we’ve got a really good shot at winning.”
Logano said the key word at Watkins Glen is fast.
“Watkins Glen is a lot different from some of the other road courses that either the Cup or Nationwide Series visits because it is a lot faster,” he said. “Some of the other tracks have more technical sections, where Watkins Glen is a track where you carry a lot of speed through most of it.
“So, it’s a nice mix of speed and technical moves. That makes it a lot of fun, actually. You have to have speed built into your car, but you also have to have it handling and coming off the corners.”
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.