Having driven for Team Penske’s NASCAR program since 2013, Joey Logano knew to watch last year’s inaugural NASCAR Xfinity Series road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with an eye more toward education than entertainment.
By Curt Cavin
Yes, the 62-lap Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit was entertaining – Logano will proclaim that to anyone who didn’t see it – but he realized in advance that track owner Roger Penske likely had a long-range plan. Because, as most people in motorsports know, Penske always has a plan.
“You had to think maybe this is a trial (for the Cup Series),” Logano said, smiling, during Thursday’s media visit to IMS. “So, that was enough for me to make sure I watched.”
Logano not only picked up tidbits from watching drivers in NASCAR’s second division duke it out, particularly in the final laps when Chase Briscoe emerged from the five-car battle, he liked what he saw.
“You look at it from a race fan’s perspective because that is the No. 1 most important thing, right?” he said. “What puts butts in the seats or makes people watch and tune in (on television)? It’s great racing, and that’s what (that race) provided.
“How did it do that? It provided some good braking zones, which provided some good opportunities to pass. The (wear of the) tires meant something as you saw cars slipping and sliding with the track having some pretty slow sections, but you also have some pretty fast sections, as well, and that adds a lot to it.
“You saw those guys coming three-wide off (Turn 14) and running down the front straightaway looking at a heavy braking zone (in Turn 1). Who’s going to drive in the hardest?
“That was pretty cool.”
As Logano described that, he looked out the window of the IMS Pagoda toward Turn 1.
“It’s a long, long braking zone, so whatever happens at the beginning of it doesn’t mean that’s what is going to happen when they get there (at turn-in),” he said. “I thought that was some interesting stuff, a lot of crossovers and mistakes and sliding around and cars in the grass.
“It has a little bit of everything except elevation, which a lot of the road courses we go to have, but I don’t think it matters (because) it puts on a great race.”
As Logano has never driven on the IMS road course, he can’t pinpoint the exact location where he expects to beginning braking during practice, qualifying and in the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard race, but he has a reasonable guess.
“You laugh, but it’s probably the (north end) of the pit wall,” he said. “It doesn’t look that far from here, but it takes a while for us to get our cars slowed down. Indy cars can get in there much deeper than us.”
By the time Logano and the rest of the Cup Series field get on track next Saturday, Aug. 14, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will have practiced, qualified and had its race-day warmup session for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. The Xfinity Series will have practiced and qualified for the Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard.
Logano plans to watch as much of that action as his schedule allows, but that is no guarantee he will know for sure how he will attack the circuit or preserve his equipment, the tires particularly.
“I think we’re going to have to learn (doing it) because I don’t know,” he said. “Before, when you raced here on the oval, track position was everything. It was very hard to pass, so you had a lot of interesting calls (on pit stops), whether it was (taking) two tires or no tires or four tires. If you came out in the back (of the pack), that’s where you were (until the next stop).
“Now, there are more opportunities to pass, for sure. What does tire drop-off look like? We don’t know until we get on the track with our cars and tires. There’s certainly going to be more drop-off than on the oval because there are more turns, more deceleration moments, more acceleration moments, more wear, more of everything.
“Once we get done with (the first practice) we’ll probably know better.”
That first practice is a 50-minute session scheduled for 11:05 a.m. (ET) Saturday, Aug. 14. The 50-minute qualifying session is at 9:05 a.m. Sunday, with the 82-lap Verizon 200 at the Brickyard set for 1 p.m. that afternoon.
Logano, 31, has won 27 races in his Cup career, the most recent 25 and the 2018 series championship with Team Penske. His standing with the boss is certainly secure, but he also knows that performing well at the track Penske has owned since January 2020 carries as much significance of any race this season. Again, being around “The Captain” for nine seasons has taught him that, and it can be argued that Penske loves IMS more than anything outside of his family.
“You’ve talked to him a lot, huh?” Logano said with the heartiest of laughs. “Yes, for sure.
“You don’t have to talk to him long to know how passionate he is about this racetrack and what it means to him, not just since he’s bought the track but what it meant from coming here as a kid with his dad (for the first time in 1951) and winning 18 of these Indianapolis 500s, a Brickyard 400 (on the oval), all that stuff. Now he owns it.
“I look around here, and he’s really put the ‘Penske stamp’ on it. It’s what you expect from something Roger owns. Things are really pretty, nothing’s out of place. It’s just nice.”