Joey Logano won last March at the Phoenix Raceway. He led 60 laps in the process. When the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the same track last November, see this one was for the championship. Logano, was a part of the Championship 4 and vying for his second title in three years. Did going to the same track to decide a championship, especially following a win at the very same place that month, boost his confidence?
Well, it did short term. Logano, led 125 laps, double the amount of the spring race, but finished two spots lower. Now, we’re heading back again for Sunday’s Instacart 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). With at the very least two top three finishes and 185 combined laps led a year ago, how much can they bring in his No. 22 Ford based off of last year or how much would they be willing to alter the setup in hopes to be better.
“You really end up setting car up similar to last year because you might change 1 or 2 things here and there, but without practice, how confident can you be coming off of something that was pretty decent, right?” Logano said to me on Friday morning. “If you weren’t very good, then it’s ‘okay we might as well try something different because we have nothing to lose.’ But, if you have a competitive race car, where you think you can compete to win, it’s really hard to come off of that and say ‘boy we need to change 3 or 4 different things because this will make us better.’ Without trying it in practice I don’t know how confident I would feel in doing that.
“It’s a lot different these days where we used to say ‘what won last year won’t win this year.’ Well, that might be the case still but not as much as it used to be because you can really take yourself out of the running by really changing too much.”
So, how do you balance this during this COVID era of racing? If you’re good, it sounds like you don’t make many changes. If you’re not good, you make a bunch to close that gap. But, are the ones that are making changes, not only closing the gap, but are they doing enough to pass the ones that were good last year?
That’s the cycle that happens in Cup right now without any practice or qualifying. Also, the track can change too. Between the spring and the fall, there’s variables that may change. Luckily for Phoenix, the temperatures are quite similar between March and November as Logano says it’s more in the traction compound and how that can be applied to the 1-mile Arizona oval to what can alter what worked in March and may not in November.
“I didn’t feel much different,” Logano said of his No. 22 Ford last March at Phoenix in comparison to last November. “The biggest thing that changes from time to time is how the PJ1 is applied to the racetrack. How, thick they lay it down, how it’s worked it. All those things kind of change the way the race goes.
“It seems like the temperature this time of year and when we go back in the Fall, it’s pretty close to the same. Not a whole bunch changes out there. It’s not like they go through a rough winter or anything like that where the track develops big new bumps where they went through a freeze. It doesn’t really happen out there. So it stays fairly consistent. Maybe a little bit more tire wear over time as the sun bakes on it, but not anything drastic.”
It sounds like if Sunday is much like last year, then Logano is going to be among the ones to beat. He’s been strong this season too. He was a half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500. He was a little more than a lap away from winning on the Daytona road course a week later. He was ninth last week.