Republished from the Hartford Courant
By Shawn Courchesne ~ Special To The Courant
LOUDON, N.H. – In February Joey Logano cemented his legacy in the annals of stock car racing by winning the biggest NASCAR event on the calendar, the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
But for a driver that grew up Middletown and saw his first NASCAR race at 7 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the Daytona 500 must share space at the top of Logano’s personal list of biggest wins.
Last September, in the second event of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship playoff, Logano dominated in Loudon on the way to victory in the Sylvania 300. It was a victory that helped to vault him to a place running with the four championship eligible contenders in the final event of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season.
“That win here last year, I compare it with the Daytona 500 win,” Logano said. “That’s how special New Hampshire is for me. The Daytona 500 is a great race, but when you win at your home track it’s such a special moment.”
Logano, 25, returns to Loudon for Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series 5-Hour Energy 301 carrying the haughty cache of the Daytona 500 winner, and still just as happy as ever to be “home.”
“I came here to watch my first race when I was 7 years old and I got to meet Jeff Gordon and I thought that was just the coolest thing,” Logano said. “Now I get to race against him on the racetrack and that’s cool, too. It’s been a special place ever since that day. You always remember your first NASCAR experience. To be racing out there now on the big track against the big dogs has been a lot of fun. To be able to win at the same racetrack you watched your first race at is really special.
“It’s been special to come back here as a driver, to race out there with a lot of the guys that I watched when I was 7 years old is just crazy.”
As a Sprint Cup Series rookie in 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, becoming the youngest winner in series history.
It was a rainy day when a lucky break got Logano to victory lane. When rain came most of the contenders were forced to pit for fuel. Logano, who had wrecked not long before the rain and had plenty of fuel, essentially stole the victory when NASCAR made the decision to cut the event short because of weather.
After his dominating win for Penske Racing last fall in Loudon, Logano said: “I just felt like I had to win one the right way here.”
In 13 Sprint Cup Series starts at NHMS since 2008, Logano has an average finish of 17.9 with five top-10 finishes.
“The win here last year was really cool because this has been a challenging racetrack for me since that first win I had here,” Logano said. “It’s been tough. It was tough getting solid finishes here. The last four or five races here the light switch went off for me and I started understanding what it takes to go fast here and we started to see some good results out of it.”
Logano goes into Sunday’s event tied for second in the Sprint Cup Series standings with 624 points. Kevin Harvick leads with 692 points and Jimmie Johnson also has 624 points. Logano will start second in the 5-Hour Energy 301. His Daytona 500 victory is his only win this season, but that first race of the season qualified him for the 16-driver Chase for the Championship field.
The second event for the 10-race Chase takes place Sept. 27 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
It means Sunday’s 5-Hour Energy 301 can serve as a pseudo daylong test for Logano and his Penske Racing team.
“I think the big thing is after the race you’ve got to take the time and really dissect what happened throughout the race, whether it’s strategy or the way the race went, and really understand what was good and bad about your car and why it did that,” Logano said. “This is going to be an important race when we come back. This is a very important race when we come back … [and we need to] make sure we take some good notes and understand what we’ve got to do when we come back.”