CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano will be behind the wheel of a virtual dirt late model sporting a Joey Logano Foundation paint scheme tonight at 8 p.m. (ET) on CBS Sports Network.
Logano will join the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model iRacing Invitational field of elite drivers – such as DIRTcar Summer Nationals Champ Bobby Pierce, and Hall-of-Fame legend Scott Bloomquist – at the virtual Eldora Speedway when the popular Late Model and Sprint Car iRacing Invitationals make their debut on CBS Sports.
“Obviously our sport is unique when it comes to the importance of having great partners associated with your team,” Logano said. “If we don’t have sponsors, we don’t race. Right now everyone is experiencing different challenges, but with having virtual races we can keep our partners front and center with race fans and we can continue to generate storylines with racing and hopefully attract some new fans so that when we do get back on the track, motorsports will be as strong as it’s ever been.”
While Logano has been a regular in NASCAR’s weekly Pro Invitational iRacing Series, the veteran driver said he’s a rookie when it comes to iRacing. His virtual racing experience mostly comes from using the Ford simulator for the last eight years. And that’s a “totally different ball game,” he said.
Assisting Logano with getting up to speed is 2018 iRacing World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model World Championship Series champion Zach Leonhardi. The 18-year-old, of Cartersville, GA, is not only an ace on the sim, but he is also a real-world Late Model driver with four years of experience. So, when the Team Penske driver was in need of some help, Leonhardi got the call.
“The Outlaws have been having me help a few different racers get ready with the TV deal,” Leonhardi said. “They had me up at Bloomquist’s shop a couple of weeks ago to help him get up to speed, and I worked with Austin Dillon some. I got a text asking if I could help another guy out and I said sure. I got a text a few minutes later and Joey Logano popped up on my phone.
“He has been really good to work with. We ran for about an hour late on Friday night. He’d never driven a Late Model on iRacing, and for having never driven one he was doing really good. Mostly trying to get him up to speed, but I’ve also been helping him with some setup stuff. I think after I work with him a few more times he’ll be pretty good on Tuesday.”
The young shoe’s speed has made an impression on the NASCAR Cup champion, who has had his work cut out for him to keep pace.
“Zach helped some with the setup, but more so teaching me how to drive,” Logano said. “He’s done a good job with that, he’s extremely fast and I can’t keep up with him. Dirt racing is much different than what we do on asphalt. It’s a totally different set of skills and it takes a long time to perfect.”
When asked about the differences in real life driving and operating a sim, Logano said, “With iRacing you’re 100 percent reliant on visual reference points and you don’t have the feelings in the seat, at least in my rig, that you’d have in the actual race car so learning how to overcome that and also not create bad habits for myself when we do get back on the track has been a focal point.”
Being an iRacing competitor since 2011, Leonhardi agreed.
“With it being laser scanned, all of the dimensions are the same so that brings some familiarity,” the young racer said. “There are some differences, you can’t feel the car obviously. I think that iRacing has done a really good job of making them as realistic as they can. They’ve done the best job.”
While this is Logano’s first time in a World of Outlaws race, not to mention a virtual one, Logano has run a real dirt late model before. In the 2009 Prelude to the Dream at Eldora Speedway, Logano piloted Chris Wall’s Black Diamond Chassis Late Model.
“Chris is really helpful and had great equipment,” Logano said. “I was able to have pretty good speed until I ripped the spoiler off it and crashed the next corner. His upbeat attitude and ability to communicate what I needed to do in the car to be faster was really helpful.”
Finishing 20th in the feature was not the finish Logano had hoped for, but he said, “To be honest, it was sort of like iRacing. I did it for fun. I wasn’t that great at it, but it was something unique and it helped some of the drivers in NASCAR connect with dirt racing fans in a new way.”
While always competitive, the Team Penske driver says that this outing is all about having a good time and branching out.
“Honestly it’s about having fun for me,” Logano said. “It’s an opportunity to jump in a car that I otherwise couldn’t and go out and try a new discipline racing against some of the best dirt Late Model racers in the world. I don’t have any expectations or finishing goals specifically. Just go out and have fun.”