DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Joey Logano led 29 of 60 laps en route to his third career Bluegreen Duels victory, two of which coming in the opening 150-mile qualifier. Logano inherited the lead on Lap 31 and never relinquished it despite a furious challenge by Christopher Bell late.
Logano had the ace in the hole in his back pocket. Drafting help by a choir of Ford’s.
Logano, teammate Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher ran 1-2-3-4. Bell still tried to make it a fight. Logano was just that good. He crossed the Daytona International Speedway finish line just .018-seconds ahead of Bell.
“Just a great job by the Shell-Pennzoil team,” a happy Logano boasted. “The execution of this race is everything because you know most likely there won’t be a caution so you’ve got to do a good job on pit road, cycle yourself to the front.
“But then I am sitting there as the leader and I’m like, man, I am a sitting duck. This is not where you want to be.
“I was hoping they started racing back there, which they did, which ended up kind of working out for me. And then when the 20 got to me, I saw Blaney was behind me. I said, that’s my buddy. I’ve got to stick with him. I knew the 20 would make the run to the outside, and I probably wasn’t going to be able to defend that, and just waited for the 12 to push me through there.
“Good Penske effort there to get a Duels win. Much better than what happened last year, so glad to have a nice start here for the season.”
This win was also big for Logano in another aspect. With no practice scheduled before qualifying and Thursday night’s Duels, it added an even more importance on this race just for the learning. While you can’t take much data from tonight and apply it to Sunday (one is a day race and the other at night), you can time your moves and learn something strategy wise that you can apply for the win on Sunday.
It happened last year for Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney. They made moves in their Duel together to which they used to win the Daytona 500 three days later. Logano also made a move last year that didn’t work. He knew if put in that situation again this year, like he was, that he knew what to do to be better.
It clearly paid off.
“Well, yeah, duh. Hey, that’s why I always say, making mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them,” Logano said. “I made a massive mistake last year. I felt like an idiot. But being able to have another chance at it, that’s what life is about. If you don’t take risks and be willing to make mistakes, you don’t really learn.
“I learned a valuable lesson last year and was able to just be smart about the way I worked the draft there at the end. Felt confident. I knew what blocks I was going to be able to throw and which ones I wouldn’t, and you kind of seen that into Turn 3 where I just let the 20 have it. There was no sense of trying to make that block.
“I learned some valuable lessons and it worked out. Maybe last year wasn’t so bad after all.
“Absolutely I learned things. Any time you get on the racetrack these days, it’s very valuable. We don’t have much time on the racetrack anymore. We didn’t practice yesterday, so we’ve not made a lap. So you fire off on the first lap and you’re bumping and banging and you’re like, hope she drives okay when you get there.
“Yeah, definitely learned some things. I want to go back and talk to Paul tonight and come up with a game plan for practice tomorrow and how we can tune our car in a little bit better. It’s not bad. Obviously it’s fast. Handles pretty good. Takes a push pretty well. Just kind of little things that you can fine tune, which is a nice place to be, right?”
Logano notes that while changes will be made, it’s not like they’re wholesaling their race car either.
“We got a fast race car, so want to maintain that. But there’s never enough,” he continued. “It’s never good enough. You’ve got to keep looking for more.”
Logano has always been one of the top drivers at Daytona and Talladega. Thursday night was his third Duel win in the last five years. As far as what makes him so great, he said that speedway racing has evolved over the years and you absolutely have to evolve with it. However, by doing so, it takes a lot of work to be good here. How much effort are drivers willing to put into this style of racing?
“I don’t think anybody at Penske looks at speedway racing as a luck thing,” Logano says. “Sometimes you just have bad placement.
“But the majority of it is if you can control some things or you can keep yourself towards the front — if you get wrecked in the front, you get wrecked in the front. Like what are you going to do?
“But I think you can still put yourself up there with doing things correctly. I mean, Blaney is part of those conversations when it was the three of us then.”
The two-time Cup Series champion says that what also helps him in the learning process are his teammates and how each of their styles are different, but you can combine all into one and have a great plan on what to do right.
“Now everybody has like their own style,” he says. “Like Blaney’s style out there is significantly different than mine and what I’m willing to do compared to what he’s willing to do. We drive our cars two completely different ways in the draft, which Brad and I probably were a little bit more alike in the draft, which worked out really well.
“But Blaney has done a great job at finishing up front and winning these things, as well. There’s more than one way to do this, and Blaney has kind of found his way that works for him.
“Knowing that, that kind of fits into the recipe of how we’re going to figure this whole thing out together. So as Austin and Harrison are able to get more laps out there, learn about the draft, learn the things they want to do, they’re good students of the game, too, they’re listening well and doing their own studies and those type of things.
“The game is not as simple as it used to be. It evolves. It evolves so quickly. This draft is never the same two races in a row, no matter if the rules are different or the same. It never is the same from one week to the next.”
The odds are stacked up against him on Sunday.
The last driver to win a Duel and the Daytona 500 in the same year was Matt Kenseth in 2012. He’s the only one to do so in the last 18 years. It’s only happened five times since 1996 at that. Also, only six times has the reigning Cup Series champion also came down to Daytona the next February and actually won the Daytona 500. The last time that it actually happened was in the year 2000. Its only happened twice since 1978 overall.
Even further, none of the last 12 points paying Daytona races were won by a series champion in general.
Can Logano buck those trends in his 29th Cup Series start at the World Center of Racing?