Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – BROOKLYN, MI – Joey Logano’s dominant win in Monday’s rain-delayed race at Michigan International Speedway was a non-too subtle reminder that the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion is every bit up for a title defense.
At times, Logano’s championship-pacing work in 2019 has been overshadowed by those more regularly hoisting big trophies in Victory Lane. But even before the 29-year-old earned his second win of the season on Monday – and first since Las Vegas in March – he was exchanging the championship points lead with Kyle Busch – who has doubled Logano’s win mark.
Steady and competitive on any type of venue, Logano reminded everyone in dominant form Monday that he will be a weekly factor in the title chase – either from Victory Lane or right next to it.
Logano’s has had nine top-10 finishes in the 12 races since his previous victory at Las Vegas in March. And his work – in the winner’s circle and just outside its radius – has been superior enough to give Logano the driver standings lead again – by nine points over Busch – heading into the series’ off-week and Logano’s second Father’s Day as a dad himself.
“It is so hard to have perfect days like that,” Logano said. “I made one mistake on the restart and let the 4 (Kevin Harvick) get to the outside of me and that really made me mad at myself.
“I was able to make that up, which is great. We are keeping [his son] Hudson up past his bedtime.”
It was a long but good weekend for Logano and his Team Penske organization, but also for Ford Motor Company in the hometown venue for the nation’s big auto makers. In fact Logano half-joked about the words of strong ‘encouragement’ he received from Ford executive Edsel Ford II last week in an elaborate dinner for Ford teams at the family’s estate.
“You better not lose,” Logano smilingly paraphrased Ford’s message.
“He told us how important it was. I wish he was able to be here today. Man, this feels so good. Winning at Michigan means so much to Team Penske and Ford. Being able to pull into this Victory Lane, see everybody, means so much. A day like that, you don’t get those days all the time.”
As fantastic a feel-good as it was, however, Logano does know how to provide an even better rush of emotion: winning the title again. And he’s doing a fine job in his pursuit to become the first back-to-back series champion since seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson won a historic five consecutive titles between 2006-2010.
Logano’s work in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford this season has been over-shadowed at times by the likes of four-time winner Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, three-time winner Martin Truex Jr. and two-time winner Denny Hamlin. Logano’s own Penske teammate Brad Keselowski has three victories as well – meaning the two organizations account for 14 wins in the 15-races to date heading into the off-week. Hendrick Motorsport’s Chase Elliott is the only Chevrolet driver to win (at Talladega, Ala.).
Logano is keenly aware that his competitors are keeping up and keeping him honest. Truex finished third Monday, Kyle Busch was fifth.
And the Team Penske driver has two relatively challenging venues coming up next on the June schedule following this week’s off-week. Logano has never won at the June 23 road course race in Sonoma, Calif. nor the Chicago 1.5-miler the next week.
At Sonoma, he has only two top 10s in 10 starts. His best ever showing is third place in 2016. He was 19th last year. Chicago looks more promising. He has five top-10 finishes in the last five races there, with a best showing of runner-up in 2016. Logano was eighth there last year.
The championship lead has shifted between Logano and Busch four times in the last five races. It’s indicative of not only the tightly-competitive contest this year but also a reflection of the recent past when it comes to the title contenders, specifically. Logano will need not only to maintain his current pace, but step it up.
Truex is the defending winner at Sonoma and also won in 2013. Busch has two wins there. At Chicago, Busch is again a two-time race winner, including 2018. Truex won in 2016 and 2017.
This is only the second time in his 11-season fulltime Cup career, however, that Logano has won twice before the Father’s Day off-week – an encouraging and important sign for the current champ.
“We’ve been so close this year getting into Victory Lane multiple times, coming up short mainly because of execution,” Logano said Monday. “Today everything was cleaned up perfectly and we did a great job. This is what we get.
“Hopefully we can start stacking up some more here.”