BARBERVILLE, Fla. — Of all the things that may have been expected in the motorsports industry during Florida Speedweeks, Joey Logano racing a UMP modified during the 50th DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park probably wasn’t on anyone’s list.
Logano, the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion, raced for two nights at the half-mile dirt oval in a No. 15 car owned by Ryan Flores, a longtime Team Penske crew member and a passionate short-track racer in his own right in TQ midgets.
Considering Logano had never raced a UMP modified on dirt prior to Friday evening, his results were surprising, to say the least.
Logano charged from 19th to third in one of five 15-lap features Friday, then kept his car clean on Sunday with a quiet drive from 20th to finish 16th in the 20-lap Gator Qualifier main event.
While he admitted the endeavor wasn’t something he would have done if not for the new NASCAR Cup Series dirt race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on March 28, the 30-year-old lit up when describing the joy he got from stepping out of his comfort zone and trying something different.
“It probably isn’t something that I was going to do (otherwise), but man, it was a lot of fun,” said Logano during his Daytona 500 Media Week availability on Tuesday. “I’m glad I did it, either way. Trying to convince the boss man to (allow me) to go play around in something different took some help … to get to go play in their car a little bit, but I feel like I’m a better race car driver now than I was a couple of days ago before I went to Volusia.”
However, Logano didn’t mince words when describing his learning curve with the UMP modified.
“As far as being a dirt racer … I tell you I was clueless,” admitted Logano. “I was a dart without feathers. The rear ends of those dirt cars move so much, and you have to keep them up on the bars, as they say, and keep that left rear driven up so forward. You do that by keeping your foot on the gas. It’s easy when you’re by yourself, but then when there were 20 cars around me, I was all over the place.
“Just trying to figure it out, as cool as it was, all the drivers there were very welcoming and had plenty of advice to give me, which was great,” Logano added. “All their advice was different, though, which was very confusing because there areapparently 10 different ways you can drive a dirt car and still go fast. It was fun, though, listening to everybody and getting to figure it out as I went along.
“I’m looking forward to doing it some more because I had a good time doing it … and it was a fun way to try to get out there and see where we stacked up against the big dogs.”
Logano was quick to note that driving a dirt modified was nothing like wheeling his Team Penske Fords on pavement.
“Driving a dirt modified basically means take everything you’ve learned about driving a race car on asphalt and throw it right out the window. It doesn’t mean anything,” said Logano with a laugh. “It actually hurts you; it’s just a different type of racing. The way you drive the car and everything you do is quite a bit different. I can see how it’s very hard to transfer back and forth, whether you grew up on dirt trying to switch over to asphalt or not. That’s a tough change to make.
“It’s the same thing if you go the other way. For me, as the asphalt guy going in there, I went out there and practiced and it looked like I’d never driven a car before,” Logano added. “Eventually, I think talent is talent and race car drivers are race car drivers, and you figure it out. Over time, I think you can transfer back and forth. I think it just takes a little bit of time to figure out the process.”
As he moves back to his day job and takes aim at winning a second Daytona 500, Logano noted he has a new respect for grassroots dirt racing now that he’s had his first taste of it.
He also said that it’s important for NASCAR drivers to be able to branch out and reach fans by racing at the short-track level, much like Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Chase Elliott have done recently.
“Looking back at it, I think it’s very important and I don’t think I really realized how different the fans are in dirt racing compared to NASCAR fans,” tipped Logano. “I thought, ‘Hey, they’re two of the same,’ really. It’s a different demographic on the dirt side, compared to what we have here, and there are diehard dirt fans and they love it. I think the more we can cross over NASCAR drivers to race on dirt, or vice versa even, I think it kind of blends those two sides together more and more. Because it should be one, right? I feel like a motorsports fan should be a motorsports fan and love every type of (racing) in some fashion.
“I thought dirt-racing fans were NASCAR fans and I don’t think that’s quite the case in all of them … probably in half of them, I’d say. But I thought that what I did may have helped marry that a little more, and the more we race and show that we’re all race car drivers, we all love driving cars, just different types … I think it will help build and cross that bridge somewhat.”
Logano will chase victory in the 63rd Daytona 500 on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, live on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.