Joey Logano admits he has contracted a huge case of Daytona 500-itis, after winning NASCAR’s most prestigious race “way back” in 2015.
Logano, who drives the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, said he remembers that day as wild and wonderful, creating a euphoria that he has not experienced before or since that huge victory.
“I want that pretty bad, knowing what it is like to win the Daytona 500,” Logano said in a recent telephone interview. “It’s just a huge deal.”
What does he remember?
“I remember just pulling into Victory Lane, seeing all my team, and everybody was just yelling and screaming, you don’t get that feeling from winning any other race,” he said.
“Daytona is so special. After knowing what it is like, it makes you want to win another one even more.”
Winning the 500 has become a matter of having your car survive or dodge the “Big One” — the crash that seems almost inevitable these days. It goes back to the old saying, “In order to finish first, you first must finish.”
Jockeying for position in the waning laps has become an art form because being in the right place at the right time has determined many recent Daytona 500 triumphs.
The 27-year-old Logano has another concern as Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway quickly approaches.
It goes back to Oct. 3, when NASCAR announced its 2018 rules package for the Monster Energy Cup Series.
NASCAR’s vice president of innovation and racing development, Gene Stefanyshyn, unveiled the changes that day, including a rule that affects only races at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.
The ride-height rule has been eliminated. Stefanyshyn said this could provide safety and competition benefits. The ride-height rule was taken away from all other races in 2014.
During the recent NASCAR Media Tour, driver Kyle Busch said he expects the elimination of the ride-height rule will dramatically affect car handling.
“Maybe, hopefully it’ll make the cars drive worse, so then there is some handling that comes into play,” he said. “I would like that, because I think anytime you have an opportunity to out-setup someone or out-handle someone at a racetrack, that’s what creates racing. That’s what makes passing.”
Logano has made 18 Cup Series starts at Daytona, and ride height was never an issue. NASCAR mandated the distance of the base of the car to the track surface.
Last year the ride height had to be a minimum of 4.25 inches in post-race inspection. This time around, that measurement won’t be taken at Daytona.
Now teams can play with that element of the car. It has become the X-factor going into the Daytona 500.
“This year is different, kind of lost in the shuffle is this whole ride-height rule,” Logano said. “It’s going to change a lot of things, not only the way we race in a pack but to the way the cars handle and the way we make speed in our race cars.
The less air that passes under the car, the faster you go. Some drivers said there could be a speed gain in the draft up to 25 mph. Of course, NASCAR can offset that quickly with smaller restrictor-plate openings.
Logano said Team Penske will be on a mission to find the optimal setting in practice leading up to the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.
“It’s a big unknown that we have to handle when we get down there,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how teams evolve around the rule.
“You know, where they put their cars up, because there will be a balance between speed versus grip. Finding the balance on your race car will definitely change a lot from what it has been.”
At least Team Penske will have more resources as it preps for the 500 and companion Cup Series events. The team went from two to three cars, adding Ryan Blaney to the rotation.
Logano said more people, more information, better results.
“Adding that third driver to our team is a big deal,” Logano said. “Creating a new race team is a big, big deal. Our guys have done a great job dealing with it so far, getting us prepared and ready for Daytona.”
2018 Cup Series Schedule
Feb. 11: Clash at Daytona
Feb. 15: Can-Am Duel at Daytona
Feb. 18: Daytona 500
Feb. 25: Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta
March 4: Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas
March 11: Camping World 500(k) at Phoenix
March 18: Auto Club 400 at Fontana
March 25: STP 500 at Martinsville
April 8: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas
April 15: Food City 500 at Bristol
April 21: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond
April 29: Geico 500 at Talladega
May 6: AAA 400 at Dover
May 12: Go Bowling 400 at Kansas
May 19: All Star Race at Charlotte
May 27: Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte
June 3: Pocono 400
June 10: FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan
June 24: Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma
July 1: Chicago 400 at Chicagoland
July 7: Coke Zero 400 at Daytona
July 14: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky
July 22: New Hampshire 301
July 29: Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono
Aug. 5: 355 at the Glen, at Watkins Glen
Aug. 12: Pure Michigan 400
Aug. 18: Night Race at Bristol
Sept. 2: Southern 500 at Darlington
Sept. 9: Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis
Sept. 16: Las Vegas 400
Sept. 22: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond
Sept. 30: Bank of America 500(k) at Charlotte road course
Oct. 7: Delaware 400 at Dover
Oct. 14: Alabama 500 at Talladega
Oct. 21: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas
Oct. 28: First Data 500 at Martinsville
Nov. 4: Texas 500
Nov. 11: Can-Am 500(k) at Phoenix
Nov. 18: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead