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Playoff Outsider Logano Glad For The Glen

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 6 2017

Joey Logano has performed well at Watkins Glen the past two years. He sure could use a top performance on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Green Bay Packers superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers perhaps said it best about facing pressure: “World War II was a ‘must-win.’ ” With that nugget as historical background, Joey Logano insists his shot at qualifying for NASCAR’s Cup Series postseason has not yet reached “must-win” status.

Then again, the 27-year-old Team Penske ace might be bluffing. With only five races remaining in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Logano definitely is scrambling for one of three remaining playoff berths. Logano won at Richmond International Raceway earlier this spring, but that victory was “encumbered,” so it doesn’t count towards an automatic playoff berth.

“I‘m not sure we’re at a ‘must-win’ yet,” Logano, driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion, said during a media session Saturday at Watkins Glen International. “I feel like this is one of our best shots to go out here and win this weekend. We also have some great racetracks coming up. Bristol, Darlington has been a good track for us. Richmond as well. We’ve won at the next four out of five races that are coming up, so we know we can do it. We just have to do it.”

Sunday’s 32nd annual I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at The Glen certainly looms large for Logano, who won on the 2.45-mile/11-turn natural-terrain layout in 2015 and finished second last season. Logano has finished lower than seventh in just one of his last six starts at the famed Finger Lakes facility.

Recall that NASCAR officials discovered an issue with the rear suspension on Logano’s car during post-race inspection at its R&D Center in Concord, N.C. While the Richmond victory was allowed to stand, NASCAR ruled the infraction was serious enough to deny Logano an automatic playoff berth. The “encumbered victory” rule was instituted by the sanctioning body in 2016 for just that purpose.

Logano currently is 69 points behind Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing for the final playoff spot and 52 points behind Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer, who would be the first driver out of the playoffs if the season ended today.

As a prelude to Sunday’s 90-lap/220.6-miler, Logano qualified on-pole for Saturday’s 23rd annual Zippo 200 at The Glen NASCAR Xfinity Series race in his No. 12 Snap-On Ford Mustang.  He finished second in a race won by Kyle Busch in the No. 18 NOS Rowdy Toyota Camry.

NBC Sports Group and Motor Racing Network will partner to present Cup race coverage from WGI starting at 3 p.m. (EDT) on NBC Sports Network. Similar to the collaboration between NBC Sports Group and MRN for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race telecast here, the Cup event will be called from multiple vantage points around the course.

Last year’s Cup series point runnerup, Logano has made the Championship 4 in two of the three years it’s been implemented. The one year Logano didn’t make the Final 4 (2015), he led the Cup Series with six wins.

“Our goal is still the same,” Logano said. “Our goal is to win the race no matter what. I’m not going to race someone different because of their situation or my situation. I’ll understand what their situation is. I’ll understand how desperate they are, but for us we have to stay focused on our car as much as anybody else’s.”

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Sunday’s compressed Cup schedule of qualifying followed shortly thereafter by the race will find Denny Hamlin on baby-watch. Hamlin and longtime girlfriend Jordan Fish are expecting their second child any day. Joe Gibbs Racing has Central New York native and NASCAR veteran Regan Smith on standby alert to wheel the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota Camry in the event Hamlin is informed that baby is good to go.

“The baby is due on Thursday and she (Fish) won’t induce so it will be any time,” said Hamlin, who acknowledged he has a jet on standby. “I don’t know that we have a whole lot of details. He’s (Smith) there at the hauler, he’s ready to go. As far as I’m concerned if and when I get the call I’ll go just immediately. It really doesn’t matter to me when it particularly is. I mean, short of it being in the pace laps then I would try to run one lap and then come in, but any other time I would just go right away.

“I’m not really sure how it all will work, but I assume that my people will be gotten hold of as soon as I need to go.” The couple already are parents of a 4-year-old daughter, Taylor.

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Watkins Glen President Michael Printup definitely is experimenting with the two-day weekend schedule. Cup Series teams had no scheduled on-track activity Friday. Drivers were assigned two practices Saturday and the field will not qualify until 12:05 p.m. Sunday under a multi-vehicle/two-round format. The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 3 p.m.

“I think it’s 48 hours of almost non-stop racing action at a racetrack, which is very good,” Denny Hamlin said. ”There’s a lot of times when you have three-day shows where nothing is on-track for a while and it kind of gets stagnant, but I definitely like the shows running through and something on the track nearly at all hours of the day so it gives fans something to watch. I definitely enjoy it. I’m sure the team guys enjoy it as well, so it’s a step in the right direction.

“I think some of the Fan Fest stuff has been really good. I haven’t been a part of one yet, but I see on Twitter the reactions to it and I see a lot of talk about it. You can argue what gets the fans more of an experience _ us going around a racetrack or them actually being able to engage with us _ and I would think it would be the latter.”

Joey Logano suggested the same-day schedule, along with stage racing, has presented another game-changer for the teams.

“With a 3 o’clock start time we still have plenty of time in the morning to prepare physically,” Logano said. “I guess the part that becomes a little more challenging is that we used to always have these appearances in the morning, four or five different appearances, and now where do you set those in to get them in before qualifying?

“It is different. I think it’s OK. I don’t have a problem with qualifying the day of. It all just depends on the schedule. The reason we do it is if you have two series going and you only have so many officials and have to have so much time to go through tech. Unless we change some of that stuff up, this is the way it has to be, I believe, from what I understand at least. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. If someone crashes in qualifying I think it puts them in a pretty big bind to get their stuff ready for the race but it is what it is. It’s the same for everybody.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. acknowledged The Glen has played a significant role in his development as a driver. Junior is 0-for-16 in Cup starts here, but he did post a NASCAR Xfinity Series victory on June 27, 1999 en route to his second consecutive (Busch) series championship.

I remember before we ran the Xfinity races here, my father and DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) making an investment in me and Steve Park in Bondurant to be schooled by some of the best instructors in road-course racing,” said Junior, referring to the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving  outside Phoenix. “That was an incredible experience for me as a young guy at that time. And it was quite common for a lot of folks to go to Bondurant and get a little bit of tutoring. It was really helpful for me. Obviously, we came here and had good speed and ended up winning.

“We did all that preparation strictly because The Glen was the only track we had to run in road-course racing. It also introduced me to a lot of individuals that I have become great friends with and admire (like) Boris Said and Ron Fellows and Andy Pilgrim and a lot of the guys I leaned on for advice and support when it came to getting around road courses. I was introduced to those guys due to our involvement in racing here.”

While the Cup and Xfinity Series have competed on The Glen’s 2.45-mile/11-turn “short-course,” the track earned its worldwide reputation as original home to Formula One’s United States Grand Prix for 20 years ( 1961-80) on the 3.45-mile “long-course.” That layout incorporates the track’s famed “Boot” section of rolling terrain with elevation changes, and NASCAR reportedly has conducted simulations with Cup cars for possibly running the open-wheel/sports car circuit in the future.

“I think it would be great,” said Junior, noting that even the current generation of Cup cars were not designed for road-racing. “(But) I don’t think it’s an incredible adjustment for anybody _ the teams, the fans, the sport. Just adding a little bit more distance to the track. So it’s not a major change that I think would affect the bottom line when it comes to economics. It might actually give a little bit of spark to the people tuning in, so might like to see how that goes the first time around. I think it would be neat to try it and see how it goes first time around.  Doesn’t seem like you need a simulation for that _ just go out there and do it.”

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Chevrolet will unveil the nameplate for its 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams during a news conference Thursday at 1 p.m. (EDT) at General Motors’ Global Headquarters at the Renaissance Center in Detroit.

The new car will replace the Chevrolet SS. Chevrolet officials confirmed in early January the automaker would cease production of the Chevy SS at the end of the 2017 model run. The SS made its Cup debut during the 2013 season, when NASCAR introduced the Gen-6 stock car in a bid to reinforce “brand identity” among OEM manufacturers Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota. The SS followed the Impala, which competed in the Cup series from 2007-2012 in iterations that included the SS.

Representatives from Chevrolet, its NASCAR teams and the sanctioning body will participate.

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Californian Will Rodgers capped his first WGI visit Friday evening with a victory in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series-East Finger Lakes Wine Country 100. Ironically, the 42-lapper wasn’t even on team-owner/crew chief Jeff Jefferson’s schedule until Rodgers finished second to NASCAR Cup star Kevin Harvick in the K&N Pro Series-West race around the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road-course on June 24.

“That race was pretty surreal, being able to run wheel-to-wheel with Kevin,” said Rodgers, a resident of Solvang, Calif., and driver of the No. 7 Solvang Brewing Company Ford. “Somebody of his caliber is so experienced and for me to run behind him, I think I learned a lot of things I applied here. After we had that great run we decided we absolutely need to take advantage of road courses _ that was one of Kevin’s suggestions to me and it paid off. I’ve really been looking forward to this race for a while and first time here to win it, it feels pretty great.”

Harvick, a California native, exited his motorhome and walked to Victory Lane to congratulate Rodgers. “It felt pretty great,” Rodgers said. “We did the same podium picture for him at Sonoma after the Cup race, which was awesome. So for us to have back-to-back photos, it’s definitely for the memory book.”

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Motorsports icon Mario Andretti will receive the International Motor Racing Research Center’s Cameron R. Argetsinger Award during a sold-out dinner program on Aug. 31. The IMRRC, a research and archival library focused on the history of all types of racing and all racetracks worldwide, will honor Andretti for Outstanding Contributions to Motorsports.

Andretti is considered by many the greatest driver in the history of the sport, posting victories at virtually every level of racing in a career that spanned five decades.

The award memorializes Cameron R. Argetsinger, founder and organizer of the first street races at Watkins Glen almost 70 years ago. It was established to honor a person universally recognized for having advanced and improved the sport, who brings prestige to motorsports and who demonstrates commitment to the future of racing.

Team-owner Chip Ganassi was the inaugural award recipient in 2014. NASCAR legend “King” Richard Petty was the 2015 honoree, while team-owner Roger Penske was cited in 2016.

NASCAR, the International Speedway Corp., Watkins Glen International and the International Motor Sports Association are original presenting sponsors for the dinner, which will be at the Corning Museum of Glass. IMSA joined the sponsor’s list last year. The Bosch Group has returned for its second year of support while Firestone, which has a long-standing relationship with Andretti, is a first-time sponsor. The event will precede the Verizon IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen weekend at WGI.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 6 2017
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