NASCAR is now eight races into its restarted season and, thus far, it has to be considered a success. The races are drawing significant viewership as fans have flocked to TVs to be able to watch live sports, and to this point, drivers and teams have seemingly been able to stay safe as they’ve instituted distancing and mask guidelines, while limiting the number of people teams send to races.
They’ve also cut out practice and qualifying to avoid having too many gatherings at the track, which makes life more difficult on teams trying to get their car set ups together. NASCAR’s hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic pulled drivers off the track right as Joey Logano was came off a pair of wins in the first four races of the season in the No. 22 Penske Ford, quite the feat given he entered 2020 with a new crew chief in Paul Wolfe. Since returning to the track, Logano’s had four top-10 finishes, but the dynamic of having a new crew chief is made all the more difficult by a lack of track time for the two to collaborate on setups. As Logano notes, the result is a lot more hit and miss with cars as there’s not a lot of adjustments to make on the track, leading to a wide variance of results for many of the drivers on the Cup Series circuit.
On Sunday, the Cup series finally gets back to a one-race per week schedule after a furious run of eight races in four weeks to get back on track when NASCAR heads to Talladega, where Logano has three wins and three other top-5 finishes in his last 10 races. Logano spoke with Uproxx Sports over the phone on behalf of Panini America, where he’s now the racing trading card ambassador, about the challenges of the restarted season, how he’s building a relationship with a new crew chief without much track or garage time, why his racing style tends to lead to either wins or wrecks, his love of trading cards growing up, and what he’s learned after NASCAR drivers promised to “listen and learn” amid nationwide protests against systemic racism.
What’s been the biggest adjustment or challenge to this restarted season where y’all are running two races a week with little to no track time before the race?
This is definitely the times of change and challenges for everybody, no matter what industry you’re in something has changed and you’re needing to adapt, and it presents a great opportunity for you to adapt quicker than your competitors and find the competitive advantage from that standpoint. And if you look at the challenges we’re all facing, I think communication might be one of the biggest ones, which, thank God we have video calls and things like that to keep the communication going along. But now we don’t have practice and I can’t go to the race shop, and there’s just a lot of different things that keep coming up, one after another just kinda stacking on each other. That’s been, like I said, a tough transition for us. I used to be the guy that was in the garage from when it opened to when it closed, and now I just show up to drive the car.
So as you can imagine for me, that’s a huge change, so trying to figure out how to prepare myself mentally for the challenge ahead. I will say it’s been different, but as we’ve run seven or eight races now, it’s almost like I’ve gotten used to it. You change so quickly and you adapt and it becomes your new normal, and I’m OK with it. You’re able to plug away and go hard at this thing.
With the lack of practice or qualifying and without that garage time, I feel like this year there has to be such trust between driver and crew chief in terms of getting the car set up and knowing what each other wants out of the car at each track, and you have a new crew chief in Paul Wolfe. How has that trust and relationship developed in your first year with him as crew chief?
I mean, it’s going good, but I will say not having practice will make it a lot more challenging as we don’t have time to work together and talk about the car as much until after the race. Cause preparing for the race, like, I fought this last year and he fought this last year, so let’s kind of put it together and see what makes sense. It’s hard to try new things and it’s hard to communicate about the car until after the race because once you start to race you got what you got for the most part aside from making wedge and track bar adjustments and air pressure. There’s just not a whole bunch more you can do, so I think it’s just kind of learning those things as you go. That’s a big challenge, no doubt, that’s ahead of us.
I feel like we’ve done a good job with it, but I feel like you have more races where you hit or miss. You can’t tune it in to what I want specifically in a race car compared to what Brad [Keselowski] wanted with Paul over the years. Those types of things we’ll work through, but I feel like we’ve done a good job and grown a lot over the last few weeks and will continue to do that.
Y’all are racing a lot in the South in a time where it’s very hot and humid, and we’ve seen some guys struggling after races. What is the physical strain of doing this much racing in the heat, and what do you do nutritionally and with workouts during the week to try and have your body ready for this much racing in these conditions?
Yeah, you gotta physically keep things in mind, cause like you said, we went from 0 to 200 in no time, running in the heat of the day and races every three days or so. It’s been very tough on a lot of drivers and probably the ones who took the time to continue to work out and maintain their physical fitness level are the ones that are reaping their rewards right now. I think that’s the name of the game, during this time where everyone’s quarantined, you know, there’s opportunity there to become better. There’s also opportunity to become a lot worse. I think staying focused and driven to be the best, even when you’re not competing, is the really how you start to move yourself ahead when we got back going here, and I think you’re seeing that.
You head to Talladega this week, which is a place you’ve had a lot of success in recent years. What is it about Talladega and the superspeedway that seems to fit your eye?
I just think that I like it. I think that might be the biggest thing. A lot of people don’t like superspeedway racing, so I think the fact that I enjoy it is a good thing. I’ve had fast cars here the last few years there, which helps as well. I’ve been working hard with my spotter on being on the same page with T.J., who’s my spotter, and I think that’s good. Working with my teammates and focusing on being in the front, that’s kind of what’s led to our success. Now, that mentality of being aggressive and staying towards the front is, as many wins as there is, there’s just as many crashes [laughs]. That’s kind of the name of the game when I go to these superspeedways. We’re going to be up front and have a chance to win or we’re going to be on the hook and going home early. And that’s OK, that’s my attitude and I’m alright with that.
I’m not going to be the guy riding around in the back and saying I finished fifth at best and maybe worse. Not for me. I’m not that type of racer, and I think our fans come to see us race and not ride around in the back and hope not to crash. So, yeah, I don’t know what to tell you, maybe it’s a lack of patience, I don’t know what it is, but it seems like it wins a lot of races but it also ends in a lot of crashes. But it’s what I got [laughs].
You’re partnered with Panini now as their racing trading card ambassador. How did that partnership come about and what are you excited about working with them?
Yeah, well with Panini I’ve been able to work with them the last couple of years, and it’s been a great partnership. So many different levels, but for me the authentic brand they were able to bring for myself, somebody that is a race fan at heart and first. I loved watching racing as a kid. I got trading cards as a kid, and that’s what kind of grew my love for the sport as I learned more about the drivers and the cars and the details, and that’s all on the back of the trading card. That was something that really attracted me to where I am today, and I think even now as I’ve been in the sport for a long time, I still collect them, but you also see other fans come to you now with your card and you sign em and you hear stories of what it means to them. It’s fun, and now as a dad, it kind of keeps going, I see my son, Hudson, he’s starting to look at cards here and there and see the cool race car on it and stuff like that. But it’s cool how it’s generational, and I think that’s something that’s so big in the trading card industry. And with Panini, the quality of their cards are second to none. You now when it comes to the uniqueness, the colors, putting in the collectible items — whether it’s sheet metal or suits or gloves, whatever it may be. There’s so many unique things — autographs on the cards already and trading card sweepstakes winnings — that take it to the next level to where it really becomes elite in this industry.
Finally, you were among a number of drivers that participated in NASCAR’s “Listen and Learn” video. What are the things you’ve learned over the last few weeks as we see all these protests of police brutality and racism that are happening around the country?
Like you said, it was all about learning. That’s the biggest thing, learning with an open heart and I think there’s only so much we can probably learn as we’re all in different situations, but the most important thing I’ve learned so far is we need to choose love over anything else. And let your faith in God guide your heart, and as long as you kinda go that way I think we’re gonna be able to get through it all. I think the other big thing is we want people to feel welcome to the race track. All people, no matter what color your skin is, we want people to feel welcome and safe and not judged at our home. Right? Our NASCAR race track. That’s to me been the driving force of how we move forward and the most important things.
Joey, I appreciate your time. Best of luck at Talladega and hopefully it ends in the win and not the wreck.
I hope so [laughs]. It’s 50/50 lately. I hope so.