Secret to Joey Logano’s Daytona 500 victory? It was what he did off the track

3 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Joey Logano’s offseason wasn’t just about his wedding.

When he was in a plane, he watched video. When he was at the race shop, he studied video. When he had free time, he analyzed video.

With the focus of a sleep-deprived, caffeine-infused basketball coach breaking down game tape, Logano studied past performances in restrictor-plate races. He saw mistakes. He saw missed opportunities. He saw impatience.

Even in Logano’s breakout season of five wins and a fourth-place finish in the points last year, a weakness was evident – how he ran at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Logano failed to score a top-10 finish in any of those four races.

While some can argue that a string of finishes outside the top 10 at a restrictor-plate track is more about luck, Logano’s performance was a troubling trend. Until Sunday’s Daytona 500 victory, Logano had gone nine consecutive restrictor-plate races without a top-10 finish.

Thus, the extra film work in the offseason.

“Limiting the mistakes in the pack was something that I feel like we needed to work on the most coming into this race,’’ Logano said Monday morning. “There was a lot of times before where every time I got a run, I would just make a move. There was a lack of patience and understanding the draft but the more we watched this and understood it, making smart moves and making sure you don’t put yourself in the position to basically lose everything you’ve got by working and staying up there all day.

“The worst thing that can happen is if we come down pit road and put two tires on the car to stay up front and then you make a mistake and now you are 20th with two tires. It isn’t a good deal. You have to work hard to stay up there with the track position.”

Sunday, he applied what he learned watching video, studying other races this week at Daytona and what he gathered when on the track. The result was an aggressive, heady drive to repel the challenges from Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and others.

Where leading at a plate track used to be a detriment – the leader often was the victim of cars ganging up in the draft against them – that’s not the case with this rules package. The leader bobs and weaves like a boxer, changing lanes and keeping the trailing cars from from making a run.

A wrong decision can cost a driver a chance to win NASCAR’s biggest race. Jeff Gordon, who led 87 laps, lamented a decision to restart on the high line as the leader. The line didn’t get as good a start and Gordon soon lost the lead. He never got it back, stuck in traffic. Earnhardt was disappointed in a decision he made that dropped him back late in the race and kept him from having a better chance to win.

Logano avoided those mistakes.

“You are constantly looking for someone to snag you and push you out of the pack,’’ Logano said of staying at the front. “We are pushing each other really close and everyone is trying to find the hole. If you leave a gap they take it. That was key, trying to limit the mistakes I have made in the past and make sure that I tried to understand each move before we made it.”

That allowed Logano to be the leader for the green-white-checkered finish. When the green flag waved, Harvick gave Clint Bowyer a strong push and that allowed Bowyer to push Logano clear of the bottom line by the time the field entered Turn 1. No one could make a move on Logano before the caution came out on the last lap, assuring Logano’s victory.

Now, he has another video to watch – him in Victory Lane after the Daytona 500.