Cup Series rookie Daniel Hemric of Richard Childress Racing joins me to make our 2019 playoff predictions — from the 16 playoff drivers to the champion.
The 12 Questions series of interviews returns for 2019 — its 10th season — with a new slate of questions. Up first: Defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano of Team Penske. This interview was recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed below for those who prefer to read.
1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?
I am an iPhone person, just because I’ve always had one. And it’s funny because the Android people are like, “Oh my God, it’s so much better than the iPhone” and they’ve got to tell you why and all these reasons. And I just go, “I don’t need all that.” I just want a phone. I want to do emails. I want to text and occasionally take a picture and do social media. That’s all I want. I don’t need anything more fancy. Like all these new phones come out and…eh. But the waterproof piece? Big deal. I just tested it this week, by the way.
And it worked out OK?
You have time for a quick story?
Me and (wife) Brittany were with (son) Hudson at the beach, and he’s loving it. So I have my phone in the back pocket of my swim trucks and apparently my phone falls out of my pocket when we’re walking through the ocean.
Five, six minutes go by, we’re back up by the pool area and I can’t find my phone. I’ve got Brittany’s phone, I keep calling it and calling it. Boom, somebody answers it. And I’m like, “Hey, I’m trying to figure out what’s going on, I lost my phone.” They’re like, “Yeah, we just found it in the ocean.” I’m like, “In the ocean?” They said, “Yeah, we were walking looking for sand dollars and it was knee deep.” And it’s like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s working!”
So I run back down there, I meet them, I’m like, “Thank you so much, that’s amazing.” And the speakers were kind of drowning out, but eventually, it dried out, and it’s working fine. I’ve got it right here, and it works. Isn’t that amazing?
Yeah. It really is. I have been too afraid to even remotely test it, but yeah.
So how can you switch after that?
I mean that fact that he found it, and it wasn’t underneath the sand at that point. The waves usually kind of wash things underneath the sand. That’s what I thought would have happened. I’m lucky.
Did they recognize you as Joey Logano, the NASCAR driver?
They just thought “guy who lost his phone?”
Yeah, that was it. That’s me. I was just some dumb guy that dropped his phone into the ocean.
2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?
I’m not a big autograph person myself. I don’t really understand the autograph as much, because I’d rather talk to somebody. If I want to meet somebody, I’d rather have some kind of interaction where you can know the person. I feel like a picture says a thousand words, so I would go with a picture.
With that being said, if you’re going to take a selfie, just know how to use your phone, because we’re in a hurry. And I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t want to take a picture, but sometimes you’re trying to go to the driver’s meeting, trying to get to your race car, it’s a time of work, and it’s hard to do everything at the level I want to do it at. So sometimes it’s hard and it comes across the wrong way. It’s like that for a lot of drivers in our sport.
That’s why I feel like autograph session, if we go to a Walmart or we go to a Planet Fitness, wherever it may be, it gives me more time to talk to the person. And I have more fun doing that, because keeping your head down and just signing an autograph, it’s boring, there’s nothing really there. But if you look up and talk to the person that’s there and ask them where they’re from and why they root for a certain person or whatever it maybe, that’s more fun for me.
Yeah. And they remember that.
It’s just a better experience for both of us, and I think that’s good.
3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?
It’s pretty similar. (Laughs) It’s probably worse on the racetrack because you have more on the line, but when you’re going down the road and someone cuts you off…well, I guess it’s not as bad. You’re kind of like, “Do what you gotta do.”
So you’re more like, “OK. That’s great that you’re doing that. Fantastic for you,” more than like, “Screw you!”
Yeah, it’s not that bad. I’m OK with it.
4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?
Yes, actually. I was actually here in Daytona when we did the tandem drafting stuff and I was in the Xfinity car. Brad (Keselowski) and I were out there tandeming — and this is when I still drove for Gibbs, but we tandemed out there a lot because we worked together well, even then. So he’s pushing me, and like Lap 2, my belts came undone. And I was like, “Get off the back of me!” (Imitates himself waving frantically) Immediately I’m like, “I’m coming in!” Especially in practice, when your belts come loose, you’ve got to come in. I guess that part was a little scary to me. But that was really it. At least I didn’t hit anything, but yeah, it was a little sketchy.
5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?
It was illegal? Yeah, I’d want to know about it. I feel like as a competitor, if you’re pushing the line, that’s one thing, but if you’re straight-up black and white out of the lines, I want to know about it for one, and two, I probably wouldn’t be OK with it.
I agree with pushing it — we have to. All of us as competitors have to push that line and interpret the rules the right way and play within that gray area that everyone talks about. But when it’s black and white and you’re outside of it, I want to know and I don’t want to do it.
Interesting. I didn’t anticipate that. So you’d be like, “Dude, don’t put me in that position. I don’t want you to.”
It’s not worth it. And Roger (Penske) is the same way. He says all the time if we’re going to rob a bank, he’s driving the car. Which means basically, “run everything by me.” If you feel like it’s in the gray area, we’ve all got to be in the same boat together, whether it’s me, Roger, Todd (Gordon), Travis (Geisler), whoever it may be, we want to make sure that we all understand the risk — if it is a risk — that we’re taking.
6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?
I love grapes. I love raisins. But for some reason, they do not sit well in my stomach. So about four days before a race, you’ve got to cut that out.
Four days? That’s a long time.
It takes awhile. I don’t know why, but it’s something that just, I don’t mess with it. It is what it is. I don’t really need to get into more detail than that. (Laughs)
7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?
I don’t know. That is a really random question you’ve got there.
It’s the 10th year, this is like the 120th question, I’m scraping the bottom…
You’ve been watching Star Wars or something. (Ryan) Blaney might have an interesting answer for you there.
I don’t care. How does that sound? I don’t care. (Laughs)
8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?
It’s usually pretty random. It depends on who you’re talking to. Most of the time it’s about kids a lot of times, or a previous race. If you’re around (Paul) Menard, he’s usually talking about hunting, which I don’t, so that’s an interesting conversation for me. I learn a lot just listening. They’re very random, just like it would be if you’re talking to anybody else.
You’re put there, right before you jump into battle. It’s an awkward spot. You go up there, you’re getting ready to race the car against each other, and now you’re standing next to the guy and you’re like, “Oh, hey.” What are you going to say?
So it just kind of depends. A lot of the times you ask about their car and how they are, try to get a little insight on what they think is going to happen, that’s usually about it.
9. What makes you happy right now?
A lot of things. I’m a happy person. To me, when I get home, it usually makes me happy because I see Brit and Hudson there. I guess that’s always the most exciting piece for me, is to see them when I get home at the end of the day a lot of times. It’s probably like that for everybody, right? You get home from work and you see your family and your little man lights up, he smiles or whatever it may be, or reach out for you and say, “Da da.” That’s the coolest part.
10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?
See, this is a scary question to answer because if you answer yes, your sponsor may be listening and go, “Well, guess we can do that.” (Laughs)
I would say no. I would like to say I can keep a sponsor without doing that. I feel like that’s a very desperate move, and Shell is with us for a long time, and I think that’s a great spot to be in. I think it just depends on how desperate you are. Right now it’s OK, so I’ll say no. But later on in my career, things may change.
11. This is the 10th year of the 12 questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past interview.
Well 22 just makes sense, so we’ll go with 22. I bet most drivers pick their car number.
This question is from 2011 and is definitely dating itself here: “Imagine for a second you could be the healthy version of Brian Vickers in 2010. So basically taking a year off in the middle of your career, knowing you have a ride waiting for you when you came back. Minus the blood clots, would you do it?”
Would I take year off?
Would you take a year off in the middle of your career, knowing you had a ride waiting?
So funny enough, I just pulled up the interview you did for this question back then, you had already answered this in 2011.
What did I say?
You said, “No, uh-uh, I haven’t been doing it long enough to say I want to say that. I can barely go through an offseason when people are going crazy, so forget half a year. While other people are racing? No way.” You actually said, “No way.” You’re very consistent.
And honestly, I still feel the same way before we get down to Daytona, when you’re still stoked to get back in the race car. I can’t stand the offseason. So nothing has changed in the last nine years. That’s nuts.
12. The last interview was with Landon Cassill. He wanted to know: Are you brave enough to share your Screen Time on the iPhone to see how much screen time you averaged last week?
(Navigates through settings and looks up his Screen Time.) Two hours and 26 minutes.
Two hours and 26 minutes for you! That’s not very good for me. I have six hours 47 minutes.
A lot of your job has to do with your phone.
Yeah. I’ve got Twitter on there for 12 hours, so yeah.
Social networking. But I am down 40 percent from last week.
OK. So that’s pretty good!
Most of that screen time is texting. There’s two hours of maps, and there’s an hour and 51 minutes on Instagram, and an hour and 20 minutes on emails. That’s the biggest things. And 41 minutes on the phone.
Why would the phone count for screen time?
I don’t know.
I guess if you just had it on speakerphone or something?
Yeah. Everything’s on speakerphone. I hate holding my phone.
But that’s a cool thing to try. I didn’t know my phone could do that. Another piece about the iPhone. See, why would you switch? It’s waterproof and it checks how much you look at it!
Do you have the question I can ask the next driver? I don’t know who it is.
Hmm. We were talking about this earlier, and Kyle (Zimmerman, his public relations representative) had a good question. Actually, I’m going to go with it. What is your plan to help our sport and community in the next year? What are your goals to make what we do better outside of the race car?
It’s a good question for all of us to ask ourselves before the season starts, I think, all the time, just to take a step back and say, “OK.” There’s obviously our little world and what we do, just driving a race car or writing great stories, whatever it may be. But if you take a larger scale and take a step back to really look at things, how do we help all of us together? I think that’s a fun question to ask.
Previous 12 Questions interviews with Joey Logano:
Chris Knight of Catchfence.com joins me at Daytona International Speedway to debate and digest the winning move and outcome of Sunday’s season-opening Clash exhibition race.
What happened: NASCAR announced it will take wins away from cars found to be illegal after races. It will complete postrace inspection entirely at the track — within 90 minutes of the checkered flag — and strip the trophy, points and money of a winner who got to victory lane by cheating. The second-place car will then move up and be named the winner, while the cheating team would be scored last.
What it means: NASCAR got tired of being bullied by its own race teams, and officials are finally doing something about it. Over the past few years, as NASCAR attempted to crack down on those who choose to intentionally break the rules, the sanctioning body was often the one who came away looking foolish. For whatever reason, everyone blamed NASCAR — not the cheating teams — when a driver didn’t pass pre-qualifying inspection or was given an encumbered win on a Wednesday after the race.
NASCAR was trying to police the garage but instead let itself get walked all over by teams with various levels of explanations and excuses for what they’d done. And while we all know crew chiefs will continue to push the limits in order to find speed, there’s a big difference when it comes to blatantly breaking the rules. Now, the days of teams getting off with relatively little damage after cheating are — thankfully, mercifully, blessedly — over.
Kevin Harvick had two encumbered wins last year that would have been disqualified under the 2019 rules — including one in Round 3 of the playoffs. He made the final four anyway, which would not have happened had the win and points been stripped entirely.
Teams might not like this change, but the solution is pretty simple. Don’t want to get embarrassed? Don’t want to be labeled as a cheater? Don’t want your sponsor to be upset? Then don’t break the rules!
News value: Ten! Even though officials hinted at this possibility last fall, this marks a total culture shift when it comes to penalties. NASCAR previously found ways to take everything but the win away in various forms of midweek punishments (hence the whole “encumbered” thing), but officials realized it didn’t go far enough. Given NASCAR hasn’t stripped a win since 1960, this is pretty big news.
Three questions: Which team will be the first to have a win taken away? What will the scene be like at the track when that happens? Will this serve as an actual deterrent, or will teams still try things anyway and just hope they don’t get caught?
Selected previous columns about taking the win away:
NASCAR preseason testing is a giant tease in that it provides tantalizing hints of what’s to come, but the information is often incomplete.
Take this two-day organizational test in Las Vegas, for example. There were 13 cars on track, draft-racing for 25 laps at a time with temperatures in the low 60s. Will those sessions look the same when there are 40 cars driving a full race in warmer weather next month? Of course not.
So let’s focus on what we know for sure after this test at Las Vegas and the three-car Goodyear tire test at Fontana last month. When it comes to the new rules package, what can we write with pen and what remains in pencil?
Here’s the first, most obvious, most indisputable fact about the 2019 package: It signifies a mentality shift in NASCAR that had been in the works for years.
This isn’t a small tweak to the racing, like the addition of the free pass. This isn’t even on the level of breaking up the races with stages or implementing double-file restarts.
This package — which brings drafting to the Cup Series on a widespread level — is a fundamental change in the way NASCAR races will look and feel.
By placing a priority on entertainment, officials have crafted the racing to produce a show they hope will thrill and excite the fan base. Ten-second leads are dead, raw speed has diminished importance and the outcome of races will more often be in doubt.
“We want cars close together, we don’t want people falling off and going laps down, we don’t want people checking out,” NASCAR vice president of development and innovation John Probst said. “We don’t want that ‘wall of noise’ (where the cars are spread out and just going by the stands continuously).”
By keeping the cars from escaping one another, the demand on the drivers will change. This won’t be about the bravery of driving into the corner deeper than another competitor, but rather about understanding the draft and making moves to find pockets of clean air — and thus gain position.
Many of the drivers, as you can guess, hate this. They’re trying to be restrained in public, biting their tongues or talking around their real opinions of the package. They save their griping for private, believing it does no one any good to blast it within earshot of fans.
Well, for the most part.
“We’ve taken the driver skill away from the drivers in this package,” Kyle Busch said. “Anybody can go out and run around there and go wide open. You (media) can probably do it. It’s going to be a lot more mental game, a lot more chess match, thinking how you make moves, how daring you’ll be.”
Many of those who view themselves as “racers” in the garage feel the same way, grumbling the new rules go against the traditional spirit of motorsports.
NASCAR is well aware of the opinions, of course. Probst acknowledged the majority of drivers dislike the package (and wondered aloud why they would openly say it doesn’t take skill if drivers are paid for those very talents). But officials pushed forward with this approach in hopes it would make for a better on-track product.
In short, if Cup cars race like the Truck Series, it will be deemed a success in the halls of NASCAR. After all, fans have long claimed Truck racing was the best NASCAR had to offer. NASCAR took that as a hint.
So will it work? That’s where the pencil comes in and the pen disappears.
The short answer: I don’t know. You don’t know. The drivers don’t know. NASCAR doesn’t know. No one knows for sure, and anyone saying otherwise is just guessing.
However, there were some hints at the Vegas test. And the results were mixed:
— Could the cars stay closer together than before? No doubt. However, Vegas is a relatively smooth, fast and low-wear track. During the drafting sessions, the leader could hold the gas wide open all the way around the track — but the cars in the pack had their hands full and often had to lift, depending how their cars were set up. That won’t be the case at a place like Fontana, where the tires were making a considerable difference at the three-car test and even the leader had to lift after six or seven laps.
— Could the leader get passed? Through the five draft sessions in Vegas, it looked quite difficult to achieve. If a driver had even a half-decent car, it appeared clean air would leave them untouchable as the second- and third-place cars scrambled to try and get by. The action in the field was good, but for the lead? Not so much. But again, that’s at a specific test with specific circumstances that might not apply everywhere — so we just don’t know yet.
— Did this package take some engineering out of the cars? Maybe in some ways, but now crew chiefs and engineers will just have a different challenge. They can trim their cars out to be fast but perhaps not handle well or set up to have a good long-run car but sacrifice some of the drafting speed.
— Will this change the strategy? Big time, and moreso than we can even grasp. With track position looking like it could mean more than ever, crew chiefs might have to take huge gambles on tires late in a race. Pit stops will be absolutely vital; a pit-road penalty might doom someone’s race. And there might even be some wrinkles we can’t yet anticipate, such as drivers teaming up to bump-draft in order to pass the leader.
Let’s go back to writing in pen for a moment, because we know this much for sure: As it stands now, this will be one of the most unpredictable seasons NASCAR has ever had. Between the new package and the playoff format, trying to come up with a field of 16 playoff drivers — let alone a championship pick — will be more like wild guesses.
There will likely be drivers who make the playoffs based on a Hail Mary call to stay out at the right time, while others who benefit from races filled with attrition from the additional crashes that will take place this season. There will be spectacular wrecks on restarts and highlight reels filled with daring, aggressive moves for the lead.
Will the new package save the sport? No, because no one thing will. Will it increase interest and attendance, or at least stop the slide? That’s the potential payoff for this gamble, and officials have decided betting with the sport’s integrity itself is worth the risk in order to entertain its fan base.
Good or bad, the verdict won’t come anytime soon. Only two of the first six races — Vegas (March 3) and Fontana (March 17) — use the full version of the new package, and it will take much longer than that to measure the impact.
In the meantime, drivers, fans and media alike will look for signs, wondering if this new Entertainment Era will lift the sport or only drag it down further, as some have seemed to predict via social media.
For NASCAR’s part, officials are just hoping fans give it a chance.
“I would encourage them to give it a chance and see it and watch it,” NASCAR’s Probst said. “I think they’re going to find it will be very entertaining.”
The Rolex 24 is a world-class event that gets a lot of things right. But nothing I saw while at the track this weekend was more impressive or eye-opening than the access fans receive.
There was the pre-race grid with no ropes, where fans could literally touch the cars or walk up to the drivers — including some big names — for a selfie. There was an autograph session in the fan zone, just hours before the event began. And there was the opportunity to stand inside the garage — no joke! — and watch teams make repairs during the race.
Access is a funny thing in racing. Most forms of motorsports emphasize it and get their racers to buy into it. With 90 percent certainty, I’d say you could meet any driver in sports cars, IndyCar (full-field autograph session once per weekend), Supercross (race day autograph session at each rider’s hauler), NHRA (every ticket is a pit pass and the drivers sign right at their pits) or sprint cars (drivers stay at their cars after the race when pits are opened to all fans).
But in NASCAR, your chances of getting an autograph from a specific driver vary wildly. Much of it depends on whether you happen to be at a race weekend where the driver is making an appearance (either at an off-site business or an at-track display area). If not, you’re probably not going to meet a driver unless you have a garage pass (which mostly aren’t for sale), go to a track like Phoenix or Richmond that allows fans inside the garage walkway or get invited to attend a race day hospitality appearance through a driver’s sponsor.
Why is that? Well, let’s be frank: NASCAR typically has many more people at the events than those other series. That’s not a knock on other forms of racing, but the demand is simply greater.
Now, is this lack of access — compared to other series — holding NASCAR back? Brad Keselowski certainly took exception to that notion, and I agree. NASCAR has much more pressing issues than increasing access, and simply doing so would not solve many of its problems.
It also might create more problems, since stock cars are so sensitive to tampering and there have also been incidents where fans view drivers more like WWE characters than real people (remember Kyle Busch vs. the Bristol fan last summer?).
But aside from the grid, those who still make a living in NASCAR should pursue ways to do more. If IndyCar can still have a full-field autograph session the day before the 500, if Lewis Hamilton can walk an autograph line at a listed time once per F1 weekend, if fans can rub shoulders with the world’s best sports car racers moments before they get into the car at the Rolex…well, that just shows that saying hi to a Cup star at Kentucky shouldn’t be that impossible.
But let’s back up for a second. How did we even get to this point?
I don’t go to an NFL game and expect to interact with any of the players. I don’t get mad when I attend a baseball game and there’s no on-field access during batting practice.
So where did this idea come from in racing, that everyone has to be so available and fans have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cars?
If you think about it, the idea of “access” goes hand-in-hand with the promotion of a race as more than just a competition; it’s an “event.” When a fan buys a ticket, there’s an expectation watching the race isn’t the only thing they’ll do at the track. It’s an entire day of memories being made: Walking around, looking at pits or display areas, having something to eat or drink, shopping for souvenirs and, yes, maybe catching a glimpse of one of the brave racers who is about to put on a show.
Sometimes, the event mentality even spills over to during the race itself — like at the Rolex or the Long Beach Grand Prix, which has various series race from dawn to dusk. You can’t watch all of it, so you do other things and catch the action when you feel like it.
That’s the difference between motorsports and major league sports, in which the game itself is what’s being marketed. When I go to an NBA arena, I’m showing up for the game, watching it and going home. That’s it.
Racing is much more about the experience, which is why Marcus Smith brought back the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and why Chicagoland Speedway is having an on-site carnival during its race weekend this year. Fans expect more value from their time and their ticket, which has become a motorsports tradition over the years.
That said, NASCAR had gotten away from that over the last decade as the big-league mentality seeped into the sport. Decision-makers treated races like an NFL game and forgot about the little things that made the experience so great, like walking around the souvenir haulers on race day morning.
Hopefully, the trend will return back to focusing on the event as a whole — which means increasing access at the same time. NBC’s Dustin Long recently reported the tracks will have scheduled garage access time for fans this year, which sounds like a positive step.
But it can’t just be the sanctioning body or the tracks or the drivers or the sponsors alone — it has to be everyone. And that’s what the Rolex 24 seemed to do so well.
The fact IMSA’s offices are in the same building as NASCAR and ISC, across the street from Daytona International Speedway, seems like something that should be taken advantage of more often. If anyone in NASCAR is looking for fan-friendly inspiration, they wouldn’t have to go far.
While attempting to stay up for every hour at the Rolex 24, I recorded podcast segments throughout the race. Featuring cameos from Nate Ryan, Jenna Fryer, Holly Cain, John Haverlin, Christopher DeHarde and race fans attending the event.