<
>

Joey Logano called it a 'recipe for disaster' ... but he also dominated

Joey Logano led 138 of 200 laps and won a race that was all about a major reduction in downforce. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- NASCAR has tried to take away more and more downforce in cars over the last couple of years, and Joey Logano appears to thrive. He seems so comfortable, in fact, that he wishes the cars would have had these setups throughout his career because that could have meant more trophies for him and more celebrations -- such as the one he had Sunday.

But that's not the way Logano first approached the NASCAR trend to reduce downforce from 3,500 to about 2,700 pounds a year ago, then to about 2,000 this year. On Sunday, downforce was down to about 1,600 pounds for the race at Michigan International Speedway; Logano survived and won in what he called afterward a "recipe for disaster."

"Early in my career when I first started Cup racing, there wasn't much downforce on the race cars, and I didn't run very well," said the 26-year-old Logano, who is in his eighth year of full-time Cup racing. "I guess I was a little bit ... cautious and thinking about it a lot and how this low downforce is obviously less than we've ever had, so kind of going back towards that, how that was going to be?

"But apparently I learned something over the last eight years that I can drive the race cars now."

Logano won a series-high six races in 2015, and the Team Penske driver claimed his first points-race win of 2016 by capturing the FireKeepers 400. He appears to have mastered the rules package that has eliminated rear skew -- rules that don't allow the car to sit at an angle when at rest -- as he won the two races that have experimented with the package, the Sprint All-Star Race three weeks ago and now at Michigan.

The package added a smaller rear spoiler, a smaller deck fin and less surface area in the front splitter that sits underneath the car. The goal was to decrease corner speeds to allow more passing.

On the wide and smooth two-mile Michigan track, that created a treacherous day for everyone.

"The cars are out of control," Logano said. "No doubt, they are out of control crazy, and it makes it a lot of fun, but you've got to think if you're in that pack a little bit, you're going faster down the straightaways, you're getting a huge draft when cars are side by side in front of you, and you have no downforce at all, and especially when you're three-wide and your angles are off going into the corner and you're trying to clear them, everyone is racing hard.

"It's a recipe for disaster for sure."

And Logano loved it.

"You're just right on that ragged edge, and that's awesome," Logano said. "I don't want to drive slow. That ain't no fun. That's the sport part of this.

"It should be a challenge. It should be on the edge. It shouldn't be easy, and at this level it definitely isn't."

Drivers losing control of cars were the prime cause of the nine cautions, including a debris caution that created a restart with 47 laps remaining. Chase Elliott, leading at the time, missed a shift and Logano, in second, jumped into a lead that he never relinquished.

"You can't do dumb stuff and expect to win," Ellliott said. "That's just the way life is."

Actually Elliott finishing second shows he didn't do much dumb stuff. A dumb move would have resulted in having his car in the wall. There is a fine line between dumb and aggressive, and drivers had to be aggressive and take risks with the difficulty of passing on a track such as Michigan.

"I thought our other package [this year] was better," said Austin Dillon after his eighth-place finish. "You get way out here on these corners, you have no side bite, and you just get loose and if someone comes on your door in the center of the corner, you're really loose. ... The only time you could pass cars was on restarts.

"I made three quality passes under green flag and I had a pretty good car and fresher tires."

The package not only produced a new winner for 2016, it also possibly created an environment for some different teams or drivers to shine; Tony Stewart finished seventh and Jamie McMurray was ninth. Still, no one in the top five -- Logano, Elliott, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick -- was a surprise considering those drivers have run well in recent weeks.

"I couldn't tell any difference -- it's very minimal the difference," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose day ended early because of a crash. "There's too much focus on it. It doesn't really change the way we race or the racing or the passing. This package is not a huge difference. I didn't love it. I didn't hate it."

Earnhardt tweeted later not to read much into what he said because he was frustrated after the accident with Chris Buescher. He also didn't race in the more pivotal moments, where drivers either got more confident or more desperate as the race wore on.

But no matter the moves, it appeared this was Logano's race to lose, especially after he passed Elliott. Logano, who sat on the pole, led 138 laps.

"When you lead that many laps, it's more of a relief when you win than anything because you feel like you're supposed to when you have a car that good," Logano said.

"It felt really good to pull our car into victory lane, get that win. I consider it our second win of the season. I know you guys don't [because the first was in the exhibition all-star race]. But we've celebrated twice this year."