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May 19, 2017

With standard approach, Joey Logano aims to defend All-Star win

RELATED: Every All-Star Race winner in NASCAR history

NASCAR steps outside of its 36-event schedule of points-paying races just twice a year — once for the season-opening Clash at Daytona and again for its mid-May invitational, the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race. Scan back through the recent record books and one name jumps out as the current defending winner of both — Joey Logano.

Theorizing about a common denominator takes a leap of faith, that Logano particularly thrives under the no-points, no-pressure structure, that his Team Penske No. 22 team collectively loosens its top button for a free-wheeling “casual Friday” approach to events that don’t count toward the season-long championship.

Sure, no points are at stake. But according to Logano, the business is very much as usual.

“Honestly for our team, we don’t race any different,” Logano said Thursday after a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, helping support a local charity through his foundation. “We’re just an aggressive race team and we don’t really think a whole bunch about points. We’d like to sometimes, especially with the stage racing now, but we race aggressive all the time. If there’s a trophy there, we’re going to win it whether there’s points or not.

“It just happens to be that we were able to win the Clash and then the All-Star Race last year, so I think that might just be a little bit of a coincidence because we don’t really do anything different or race more aggressively or anything like that to win those races.”

Logano returns as the reigning champ of Saturday’s Monster Energy All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Getting the upper hand in a fierce late-race battle with Kyle Larson last year helped deliver his first All-Star victory in nine tries.

“When you hear the All-Star Race — or ‘All-Star’ in any sport — it’s a special thing to be involved in,” Logano said. “And you can imagine that winning and that feeling and what it was like, it’s definitely one of those wins that you want to check off on your bucket list and to be able to say you’ve won the All-Star Race. And that was a cool thing to be able to do.

“It was an eventful race, just like every All-Star Race. There’s so many crazy things that can happen and will happen this week.”

Based on the wild-card wrinkles added to the invitational’s format, Logano’s prediction of All-Star oddities carries some high probability. Among the new facets for this year’s procedures are an elimination that whittles the field to 10 cars for the final 10-lap segment and the availability of one set of softer “option” tires for each team.

RELATED: Inside the 2017 All-Star format

The green-lettered option tires offer premium grip with the trade-off of rapid wear. And then there’s the question of when teams opt to use them, since there’s a rear-of-the-field mandate if option tires are mounted for use in the final segment. “It’s going to throw a loop into it for sure,” Logano said.

With format hurdles comes strategy, and Logano will have crew chief Todd Gordon back atop his pit box from a two-race suspension to crunch through potential race scenarios. While Logano indicated some pre-race planning was involved in attacking the intricacies of the All-Star format, there’s also an element of leaving that duty in Gordon’s able hands.

“It’s a little bit of both. Todd’s a lot smarter than me, and I realize that and I’m happy for that,” Logano said with a smile. “It’s a good thing. But we’re able to talk a little bit back and forth and saying, ‘hey, do you think you can pass this many cars in this many laps if you’re this much faster. Is there room to pass these cars and is our car going to be good enough to be able to do this or this.’ All that strategy will change after practice, after qualifying and you kind of get a feel for where you’re at with things.

“Once you get a hold of that stuff, then you might have a little bit closer to the strategy you’re going to race in your mind once you start the race, and then we’ll just kind of go for it from there. If we feel like we need to change, that’s up to them. I’ll let them figure that out. I don’t tell them how to call a race or how to set up a car, and he doesn’t tell me how to drive. So we just kind of figure it out together.”

With some math and special one-off procedures involved, Logano may need some in-race refreshers along the way. Format tweaks are as annual as the event itself. Revolving stage distances, pit-road options, eliminations and average-finish calculations have been part of the fun in years past.

Asked about potentially crafting a dream All-Star format, the 26-year-old driver demurred. No points, no pressure might still be in effect, but when it comes to playing rule-maker for a day, Logano adds a no, thank you.

“Honestly, I don’t care. As long as I know what the rules are, it’s the same for everybody,” Logano says. “It doesn’t make a difference. As soon as they’re written down and that’s what they are, those are the rules you play by and may the best team win. It’s pretty simple.”