Joey Logano is deep in the dog days of his season, but the Team Penske driver is making the best of it on the final off weekend of 2017.
Helping promote a canine-oriented initiative for a sponsor, Logano seemed upbeat in a phone interview with NBCSports.com this week about his chances of qualifying for the Cup playoffs.
With two races remaining in the regular season, it’s win or else for Logano, who is 117 points behind the current cutoff for the last playoff spot awarded via the standings.
“I feel like we’ve got to go,” Logano told NBCSports.com. “Obviously, we don’t have an option at this point. It’s nice to have an off weekend, regroup, catch our breath and figure out how we’re going to attack these next couple of weeks. We have to win. We have to make it happen one way or another.
“We’ve been in this position before. We’ve been put in this position that we have to win multiple times the last few years during the playoffs and we’ve been able to do it. It’s no different than that. We’ve just got to be ready to execute when the opportunity strikes.”
The opportunities have been infrequent since Logano’s April 30 win at Richmond (which was declared ineligible for playoff consideration because of a postrace violation). In 15 races since, his No. 22 Ford has only two top fives (third at Michigan, fourth at Indianapolis) and is riding a skid of four straight finishes outside the top 10 entering the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway next week.
Echoing some of teammate Brad Keselowski’s assessment, Logano believes Toyotas have found an edge mostly via aerodynamics with the 2018 Camry introduced this year.
“They’ve gotten an advantage because of the hard work they’ve put in,” Logano said. “They were very strategic about their new bodies, and they’ve made some good decisions about the way they developed them, and it’s obviously a rocket ship currently on the racetrack. They did a good job, they are getting rewarded because of it.
“Now it’s up to us figure out how we catch up. So I’ve got to focus on what makes our cars go fast.
“We can’t hide the fact that they’re faster than us. That’s apparent. We know that. We talk about it. We can identify certain areas that we believe they’re better. But at a certain point, you just have to do the work. You have to figure it out.”
Logano said it’s possible a breakthrough could happen at Darlington or the regular-season finale Sept. 9 at Richmond, but whenever the team makes gains, he expects it to last.
“Believe me, there’s plenty of work going into it, but as soon as we figure it out, we’re going to be really fast again,” he said. “However that happens, I don’t know. I know this team will figure it out. Team Penske has been around for 50 years winning races. They’ve been through downturns before. This isn’t the first time (team owner) Roger (Penske) has seen this. That’s why he’s not panicking. At the same time, we want to get fast as quick as we can, because this isn’t the position we like to be in.
“I feel like our team is going to get back there, hopefully it’s in the next few races. If not, we’re going to get back there before the year is out. Hopefully, we’re in the playoffs when it happens. … You’ve got to stay confident in your abilities and stay confident in your race team and their abilities and make sure you stick together and don’t start pointing fingers here or there. It’s win as a team and lose as team. It’s a lot easier to say that when you’re winning, but it’s very true. You need to be able to stick together in these times, that’s the only way you dig out of it.”
The focus won’t be on racing this weekend for Logano, who is relaxing with his expectant wife, Brittany, and also celebrating Saturday’s National Dog Day (his sponsor, AutoTrader, is commemorating the occasion by raising awareness of pet adoption with dog smell air fresheners and a list of the best cars for dog lovers).
The Loganos’ French bulldog, Luigi, has traveled with the couple since last year and will remain on the road after they welcome a baby boy in January (the couple detailed their struggles with achieving pregnancy in a recent interview with NBCSN’s Krista Voda). “The whole family will be riding together,” Logano said with a laugh. “We’ll take our kid around with Luigi. It could be a lot at times, but we’re going to give it a shot.”