To use one of Joey Logano’s favorite words, the 2020 NASCAR Cup season has definitely been “weird” — or at the very least, unusual.
And things will only get even stranger tonight at Martinsville Speedway and Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, for two entirely different reasons.
Tonight’s Cup race, the third mid-week race since NASCAR returned to racing following the COVID-19 hiatus, will mark the first time Martinsville — the oldest track on the Cup circuit — has hosted a Cup night race under the lights in its storied 71-year history.
“Take a 3,400-pound race car with 750 horsepower and make a half-mile circle at your local grocery store parking lot, and try to do that as fast as you can 500 times: that’s Martinsville,” Logano said in a media teleconference. “Nobody knows what that is like because it’s not legal to do what I just explained, so it’s a tough place because to make speed on the short run compared to the long run, or channeling your aggression with patience is tough.
“Making a fast lap one lap is one thing. Making a fast lap 50 laps into a run is another thing. Getting frustrated during the race because you can’t get by somebody or the bumping and banging and keeping your fenders on. There are so many different aspects of winning at Martinsville, which makes it fun, but really, really hard to make it all come together.
“I enjoy the challenge. I absolutely love it. It’s a fun race track to go to. I’ve come out of there with a big smile on my face and I’ve come out of there wanting to beat someone up, but it’s one of those places that you’re going to have memories, that’s for sure. Good or bad, you’re going to remember your races at Martinsville.”
Logano is one of four Cup drivers that have two wins apiece in the first 10 races thus far this season.
While he has one win (fall 2018), six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 22 career starts at Martinsville, Logano – currently second in the Cup standings – admits it has been a very frustrating track for him over the years.
The most notable incident for Logano there was fall 2015 when Matt Kenseth pile-drove race leader Logano into the wall.
“Obviously, that’s going to take the cake when it comes to frustrating moments,” Logano quipped.
But winning at the .526-mile is the opposite end of the spectrum, Logano said.
“It’s definitely one of those race tracks that as a NASCAR driver you want to have a win at,” he said. “Maybe it’s not Daytona or Indy, but, to me, it’s right in the wheelhouse with Charlotte and Darlington, a road course.
“You want to have on your stats that you clicked off a win at Martinsville because everyone knows how hard that is to say you’ve been able to accomplish. Everyone wants to have that Martinsville clock ringing in the morning every hour when you hear that thing going off in your house. That’s a sweet sound. That’s how you know you’ve been able to win there. It’s not an easy one to get.”
Logano and the rest of the Cup Series won’t have long to digest what happens at Martinsville. Four days later, NASCAR will race at Miami, marking the first time since 2002 that the Cup Series’ annual visit to the South Florida track is not for the season-ending and championship deciding race.
“It’s going to feel really weird,” Logano said. “My whole career, (Homestead has) always been the final race of the year and here in the last few years you’re either in the Championship 4 or you’re racing against the guys in it and it’s kind of been 50/50 for me in those scenarios.
“A lot of times the cream always rises to the top at that race track and you always saw those Championship 4 drivers finishing in the top four or right there at it, and one of them has always won the race.
“I wouldn’t expect some of that to be much different, but you know when you get down there and you’re not in the Championship 4 the effort that those other four cars have put into it has really kind of set themselves apart from the field a little bit, whereas now it might be a little bit more of an equal playing field when we get there. That will be interesting.”
But even if Sunday’s race will be five months earlier than historically has been the case at Miami for the last 18 seasons, Logano — who has one win, four top-five and six top-10 finishes in 11 career Cup starts there — isn’t expecting anything different than the typical norm from the 1.5-mile oval.
“Miami is not going to change, it’s still going to be tires wearing, good, hard racing, side-by-side, a little bit of draft into play as well,” Logano said. “Your car is up by the wall, cars on the bottom, so it’s still going to be a great race.
“It’s still going to be Miami any way you look at it and it’s one of the best, if not the best race track we go to. So I don’t see any of that changing. It’s just the environment is going to feel a little bit different not being the final race of the year.”
Getting back to Martinsville, Logano was asked whether tonight’s outcome could potentially top the incident with Kenseth and make for a new level of frustration there for the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford?
“I’ll let you know Wednesday (after the race),” he quipped.