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Logano Showing Some Road Racing Chops

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 29 2010

Marcos Ambrose led – and beat – Joey Logano at Watkins Glen earlier in August – but not by much. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

After Joey Logano’s Nationwide Series qualifying run at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve Saturday, there was almost as much grass and dirt on the track as there was in infield at the 14-turn, 2.7-mile road course.

And it looked like the good showing that the 20-year-old driver had made at Watkins Glen earlier this month, where he finished second to road race ace Marcos Ambrose, was a fluke.

But after blasting through the turf and gouging out a huge divot early in his qualifying run, Logano pulled himself together, kept the tires on the pavement and wound up with a lap that put him third on the starting grid for today’s NAPA Auto Parts 200 in Montreal.

Only pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose and former Formula One champion Jacques Villeneuve will be in front of him.

Behind him will be a large handful of veteran road racing specialist and also Logano’s own reputation as being an ovals-only guy.

“I think experience on them is the biggest thing,” Logano said when asked about his dramatic improvement on road courses. “We tested Road Atlanta before we went to Watkins Glen. I feel like that helped a lot. I learned a lot at that place. First time I’ve ever been there. That was really different. Mostly just driving.”

The race at the Glen was an eye-opener for those who have followed Logano’s young career.

In that race, he showed road racing chops – on the asphalt, not the lawn – which put the usual cast of ringers behind him at the end of the day.

“I was really surprised, actually, at how well we ran at Watkins Glen and I feel like Joe Gibbs Racing has got some really good road course package right now,” Logano said. “I feel like our brakes were really good at the Glen. This is a place that you really need a lot of brakes and we’ve got to try and figure out how to keep them cool and make them last.”

The runner-up finish at the Glen taught Logano more than just how to use his brakes. It taught him confidence.

“I look at Marcos Ambrose as one of the best, if not the best, road course racer out there with us,” Logano said. “When you’re out there running with him, you know you’re trying to beat the best.

“When we took the lead in the race (at Watkins Glen), I was like, “Hey, alright, this is cool.’  I didn’t know I was going to have a shot to win that race really when we started the race. I wasn’t sure how good we were going to be. I felt like we were a top-five car, maybe not a winning car.  And, then when we started running, I was like, ‘I got a shot at winning this thing.’  So, it was definitely fun to be in position to win a road course race like that.  He’s (Marcos Ambrose) was just faster than us.  He just beat us.  It was cool to be able to hang in there and definitely it brings a lot of confidence into this race.”

Logano skipped last year’s Nationwide Series race at Montreal.

And the year before that, he probably should have skipped it.

“Last time I was here was two years ago,” Logano said, “I think it was the first race here – it was raining. I was running third coming to take the checker and I wrecked under caution, along with a lot of other people that did, too.  That part kind of stunk.  You know what, I’m excited to get back out there.”

In a Nationwide Series car, that is, as Logano admits his road skills in Cup cars are still being worked upon. His beat finish on a road course in Cup is 16th.

“I think when you get in the Sprint Cup car they’re so much harder to drive than the Nationwide car,” he said. “You have to be so slow. They have so much horsepower.  Everything is just so much tougher with it. When you get in the Nationwide car, all of the sudden it feels like a go-kart. It’s still a heavy race car out there, but it feels so much different and I think maybe the confidence level comes up. Maybe you feel like you can throw it around a lot more. So, I think that’s kind of part of it too.”

Keeping the sod on the dirt and off the pavement is a big part of it as well.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 29 2010
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