Joey Logano is focused on what’s ahead this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, but car owner Roger Penske can’t help but look back at this race a year ago.
Penske sees how strong Logano’s car was and how his driver was in position to win and earn a spot in the championship round until Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Logano in retaliation for an incident a few weeks earlier at Kansas.
“I hope we can (return) where we left off, not against the wall, but leading the race,’’ Penske told NBC Sports after Logano’s victory last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Logano has moved on from that race.
“We just want to go there and win,’’ he told NBC Sports. “I don’t really focus on what happened last year or think about it or anything like that.
“It would be really cool to win at Martinsville. We’ve never won there.’’
What Logano has won there is the pole three consecutive years, tying what Jeff Gordon (2003-04), Mark Martin (1990-91), Darrell Waltrip (1979-80) and Glen Wood (1959-60) have done.
The pole didn’t prove too helpful in the spring race, though, as Logano struggled with the car’s handling and was lapped within the first 80 circuits. Logano recovered to finish 11th on the lead lap.
Logano led 207 laps in this race a year ago. That was before Kenseth, also upset about an earlier incident with Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, issued his payback.
Logano finished 37th and could not recover from the points deficit in the next two races and failed to advance to the championship round. It is the only time Logano has been eliminated since this format debuted in 2014.
Logano says that competing for the title in 2014 at Homestead has helped him excel in the playoffs.
“The Chase, there’s a lot of pressure but I’ve found a way to be excited about it,’’ he said. “I love this part of the season. I really enjoy it, can’t wait for it all year.
“Going through Homestead a couple of years ago, I learned a lot about myself. I think our race team learned a lot about themselves, individually, kind of handling that pressure.’’
Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon both say what gives Martinsville added importance is that a win there gives a team two extra weeks to prepare for the season finale in Miami instead of focusing so much on races at Texas and Phoenix before the field of eight title contenders is cut to four.
The Chase field includes all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth — along with Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch and Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson.
Gordon isn’t worried about competing against all four Gibbs cars.
“It’s one vs. 39 every weekend,’’ he told NBC Sports. “Yes, they have four opportunities, but if we want to win a championship, we’ve got to beat everybody and that means all four of their guys. I don’t see it as a negative for us.’’
Should Logano make it to Miami, he could help Penske achieve something he’s never done before — win the IndyCar and NASCAR Sprint Cup titles in the same year.
“This being our 50th year and you go back and you think back to all the great results and the great people and the great drivers and then to finish 1-2-3 in the IndyCar championship, obviously, is something very special,’’ Penske said. “In the back of your mind, you keep thinking, ‘I wonder if I can get the Cup job done again in 2016?’ Believe me it’s on our minds, but we’ve got to earn it, we’ve got to race for it, no one is going to give it to us. That would make this year real special.’’