Logano Happily Returns to Pocono

J.Logano

Logano hopes to be smiling once again from Pocono's Victory Lane following Sunday's Pennsylvania 400. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Joey Logano can frequently be spotted in the NASCAR garage area with his trademark smile stretching from ear to ear, youthful enthusiasm of the 22-year-old on display for all to see.

The smile is a little wider this week with the Sprint Cup Series heading back to Pocono Raceway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver notched his second career victory earlier this season and has won the last two poles.

Another win is just what Logano is looking for in Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400 with just six weeks left in the regular season.  As things stand now, he needs a second victory to slip past teammate Kyle Busch in the race for the 12th – and final – post-season wild card spot.

“We’re definitely at the point where we have to win another race,” said Logano, who trails Busch by 44 points.  “The points do matter, but the win is more important than anything right now.”

Logano is bidding to become the first driver to sweep both Pocono races in a single year since Denny Hamlin – his other teammate at JGR – turned the trick in 2006.

“That would mean a lot,” Logano said of a potential sweep, “especially now with the Chase coming up.  I think we have a good shot.  You look at previous races and this is a good track for me.”

Had misfortune not struck Logano’s No. 20 Toyota in last summer’s Pocono stop, he may be chasing a three-race Pennsylvania winning streak on Sunday.

“We led a lot of laps and then had a flat tire at the end,” Logano said of last year’s August race, in which he finished 26th after starting from the pole and leading 44 circuits.

In this year’s first stop on the newly paved triangle-shaped track back on June 10, Logano swapped the lead with Mark Martin twice over the final 10 laps.  His winning move came less than four laps from the finish, when he tapped Martin’s rear bumper and then sped past in a maneuver Martin called a classic “bump-and-run.”

Logano has also shown a deft touch in qualifying at Pocono, winning the last two poles on the 2.5-mile track.  With another one this weekend, he would become just the second driver in the track’s 39-year history to win three straight poles – joining Bill Elliott (1984-85).

“We’ve had good speed in our cars there and qualifying is important,” said Logano, who quickly took to the newly paved racing surface when the Sprint Cup Series made its first stop of the season there just eight weeks ago.  “We don’t slow down as much as we used to going into Turn One.  We drive it in there a lot harder and use less brake.  You still have the sensation of really pushing down into (Turn) One but before, it was real bumpy and the car was flying around a lot more.”

Logano could very well use that same adjective … “bumpy” … to describe the ride ahead as he chases a wild card spot in the post-season.  He must either make up the 44-point deficit to Busch, in just six races, or grab a second victory to brighten those Chase hopes.

“We’re going back to Pocono with the same car we had in June,” Logano said.  “We can build off that.  We’ll integrate some new things we’ve come up with the last few weeks and see how it goes.  We have a starting baseline to go back to.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will open practice at Pocono Raceway on Friday at 12 p.m. (EDT) with qualifying Saturday morning.  Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of Sunday’s Pennsylvania 400, with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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