Logano eager to atone for Martinsville mistakes
Joey Logano was initially unrepentant, insistent he had done nothing wrong in a feud with Matt Kenseth that ultimately cost Logano a chance to win his first Cup championship.
A year later, Logano has a new perspective about the soap opera that fueled the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He returns to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday with a maturity about him that could put Logano in position to win that elusive title.
“I learned some valuable lessons last year,” Logano said. “I learned a whole new level I didn’t even know I had. Now I know how to reach that level mentally inside a racecar to make things happen and be a great leader for my team.”
Logano was en route to NASCAR’s championship race last year as perhaps the driver to beat for the title. He’d swept the threerace segment of the second round of the Chase, and was dominating at Martinsville, headed toward a win that would have advanced him to the season finale.
Then Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano as payback for a spat that started during the second round of the playoffs. Logano had already won at Charlotte to secure his spot in the third round, and Kenseth was closing in on a must-win victory at Kansas that would have extended his playoffs.
But Logano, who only had a trophy on the line that day at Kansas, raced Kenseth hard in the closing laps and spun his rival. Kenseth was livid at how hard Logano had raced him. Logano didn’t care.
The hard feelings simmered for two more weeks, then with Kenseth out of the playoffs, he exacted his revenge.
Looking back, Logano knows now his shoulder-shrug attitude toward Kenseth flamed the fire. Had he picked up the phone, called Kenseth or sent him a text, it might have changed the entire season. Kenseth might have let it go, Logano would have won at Martinsville, maybe would already have a Cup championship.
That’s all in the past as the third round of the playoffs begins Sunday at Martinsville, and Logano and Kenseth are both still in play. Logano scored a must-win victory last week at Talladega to advance , while Kenseth used consistency and a play-it-safe strategy at Talladega to ensure Joe Gibbs Racing got all four of its Toyotas into the round of eight.
Logano is the only Ford driver still in the playoffs. He’s got to face the entire JGR organization — the team he raced for before they let him go and he was scooped up by Roger Penske — as well as six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who leads 2014 winner Kevin Harvick and a trio of Chevrolets.
Penske believes Sunday is a critical race, for his driver and his team, in this Chase.
“It’s a level playing field. We’re satisfied where we are,” he said. “I think we need to get through what happened last year at Martinsville and get some good success there so we can move on hopefully to the next round.”
Logano, who starts second Sunday, very much wants this do-over. He had a bull’s-eye on his back last year, in part because of that three-race sweep in the playoffs, in part because of his supreme confidence. But he had to deliver last week to get to this round, and he’s not yet stamped himself as a favorite in this Chase.