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Friday, July 13, 2012
Logano searching for points in N.H.

By Tony Lee
Special to ESPNBoston.com

Three members of the New England Patriots -- punter Zoltan Mesko and offensive linemen Nick McDonald and Ryan Wendell -- will pay a visit to NASCAR driver Joey Logano prior to Sunday's LENOX Industrial Tools 301 in Loudon, N.H. As joyful as the occasion will be for the native of Middletown, Conn., and his crew, the mere mention of it Friday afternoon brought back one somewhat unpleasant memory.

"I got to visit the Patriots last year, see the training facility," Logano said from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "They tried to teach me how to kick a field goal and, um, I'm going to stick to driving race cars. That was pitiful."

Not a bad career choice by the 22-year-old, who became the youngest Sprint Cup Series winner ever when he claimed the checkered flag in this race in 2009, at age 19, and is now firmly entrenched in a scramble for a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Entering Sunday, Logano is 14th in the Chase standings. The top 10 drivers earn a spot in the Chase, along with two wild cards (the drivers with the most wins among those ranked 11-20). One of those two is Logano, who won at Pocono in June.

Logano is just a point ahead of Ryan Newman, last year's winner in the summertime race at Loudon, and three ahead of Kasey Kahne. Both Newman and Kahne have one win to their credit, so it would not take much on Sunday for New England's lone representative to tumble a position or two. He is in a tricky spot, balancing the desire to go all out for that one mammoth win that would vault him into the catbird seat among wild-card contenders with the ever-present need to avoid a disastrous result.

"That's very, very hard," Logano said. "Probably a really hard question for [crew chief Jason Ratcliff] as it is for me. You're out there to get the best finish you possibly can, and the points position we're in right now, we can't afford to have a bad finish, but a win is very valuable. You don't want to go checkers or wreckers and go for a victory or a 25th-place finish. That's something that I think we really can't take that big of a risk yet. I don't think we're at that point yet.

"We're still close in the points at getting maybe a couple of spots in the points standings itself. I think we have to kind of wait and play it out. If we can do something a little crazy to get a win, yeah, we're going to do it. At the same time, the risk versus reward -- we have to weigh both ends of it out."

Because of the myriad possibilities entering Sunday, Logano calls this "one of the most exciting races to the Chase that we've had." That excitement goes to another level for him, considering the proximity to his hometown, about a three-hour drive. Logano was able to go home prior to his trip to Loudon and see some friends.

Although he did not divulge the details of his visit, it's safe to say the Chase came up at least once in conversation. And Logano can certainly increase the chatter with a special performance Sunday.

"Not a better weekend than this weekend to get one," he said. "Obviously, being my home area here, it would be real cool to win here. We're doing everything we can to get our Home Depot car as good as it needs to be and try to get one. Like I said, these wins are going to be super important right now."

Tony Lee is a regular contributor to ESPNBoston.com.