Joey Logano has won two of the last four NASCAR Cup Series races but he and his team still aren’t sure just how good they are this season.
Logano’s win on May 8 at Darlington, S.C., snapped a 40-race winless streak and came after the driver had publicly questioned earlier that weekend whether his No. 22 Penske team had the speed to contend this season.
Just three weeks later, Logano won again in Sunday’s inaugural race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway following a dramatic back-and-forth battle with Kyle Busch in overtime.
With a pair of wins 15 races into the season, Logano by most accounts should be considered a 2022 championship contender.
Maybe. Maybe not.
“It’s a roller coaster ride, that’s for sure,” Logano, 32, said. “We’re up and down. Charlotte last week we were in position to win the race. We took two tires, maybe four tires, maybe we win the race. I don’t know. We end up wrecking there.
“So you are in position. I think that’s the biggest thing we’ve seen here is that fast cars, yes, win races, and it’s nice to have a fast car, but it seems like there are so many different things going on.
“If you can just get yourself to the front, you have a chance no matter how fast your car is or not. You have a chance if you are in the front. You just have to figure out a way to get there. It’s different for each track how do you that. I don’t think anyone has it figured out yet.”
Therein lies the difficulties in handicapping the first season with the Next Gen car in the Cup Series.
The limited (or even no) practice time at tracks this year have forced teams and drivers to do the majority of preparation for race weekends at the shop or in a simulator.
No clear favorite
More than halfway through the 26-race regular season, even the few multiple-time winners this year are struggling to find consistency.
For example, while Logano became the fourth driver with more than one win this season, he has yet to finish in the top-10 in consecutive races. Logano is sixth in the series standings and tied for fourth in top-10 finishes (seven).
“It’s just how up and down it is right now with the learning curve and going to new race tracks and trying to understand the car,” said Logano’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe.
“As good as we were this weekend right off the truck, you look back to Dover is probably our worst race of the year to date, and it was terrible. We couldn’t get nothing right.
“It makes it even harder without practice, right? It was nice this weekend to get 50 minutes. It’s not a lot, but it gives us the opportunity to try a few things and try to build our notebook as we move forward.”
Having the speed to compete is generally the main ingredient to a competitive season and in recent seasons, Cup Series teams generally had a pretty good idea where they stacked up after the first five or six races.
But as Denny Hamlin pointed out following his win at Charlotte last week, it’s hard to say anyone is dominating the Cup Series right now.
“Obviously, it’s nice to have speed. Now we just need the consistency and try to continue to put it together,” Wolfe said. “I don’t know that any team has really shown (it) every week. I feel like you never know what to expect every weekend when you show up.
“At this point, we have to just keep learning from our struggles and continue to build on our successes and get ourselves in a good spot as we start the playoffs.”