Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Logano Comes Of Age

Joey Logano has come of age.

His victory in Texas on Monday was accomplished in dominating style, leading the most laps, holding off one of the best drivers in NASCAR – teammate Brad Keselowski – while overtaking one the sport’s all-time greats, Jeff Gordon.  A late caution setting up a green-white-checkered finish might have shaken a less experienced driver, but not the 23-year-old Logano.

The transformation started last year, when he won a race and qualified for the Chase, neither of which his teammate was able to accomplish.  And now it appears Logano is here for good.  He’s the only driver to reach the final qualifying group at every track so far this season, has been competitive in every race, and currently ranks fourth in points.

Six years ago, tagged with the unfortunate “sliced bread” label (as in, best thing since…) by Mark Martin, Logano was the youngest driver to win a Nationwide race.  A year later he became the youngest driver to win a Cup race.  Yet he was the first to admit he was far from an accomplished racer.  He’d been forced into the Sprint Cup ranks when Joe Gibbs allowed Tony Stewart to jump ship before his contract was up – and before Logano was ready to move up as his replacement.  Two years later he was railroaded out of JGR by teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who complained Logano was bringing nothing to the table to help the team improve.

Hamlin and Busch were probably right, but it was handled poorly.  At first Gibbs thought he had Carl Edwards lined up to replace Logano after one season, but that deal fell through.  The next year Gibbs lured Matt Kenseth away from Roush-Fenway Racing.  After turning down a Nationwide ride at JGR, Logano landed at Penske Racing for the 2013, where he found a teammate in Keselowski that not only wanted him, but actually lobbied for him.

Logano tangled with some of the leading drivers in the sport, including Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and, most notably, Hamlin.  But he also has done a lot of growing up during the past year and after the Texas race, Kyle Busch acknowledged a difference in Logano.

“I think Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR, but never felt quite comfortable there, for whatever reason,” Busch said.  “Sure found a home at Penske.  Those guys are really good over there.  Joey has been.  Brad has been.  They've shown good speed this year.  Shows they've got good stuff and Joey is doing what he needs to be doing with it.”

Logano agreed.

“The first time I came here, I think it was in the 02 car.  I ran terrible.  I ran 38th.  I didn't have an excuse for running 38th.  I didn't know what I was doing.  You're 18 years old with less than half a season of Nationwide under your belt.  You get thrown into a tough situation.  But I didn't realize that at the time.

“Then over the years I've been able to just kind of hone in on who I am as a driver, who I am as a person.  When you're 18 years old, you got to grow up.  You're not quite done growing up at that point.  I may not be now.  I feel like I'm getting closer.

“When I was able to go to Team Penske, get that fresh start, be able to take everything you've learned there, but you're not taken as an 18-year-old kid anymore.  I came over when I was 22.  You're looked at a little bit more as a man than an 18-year-old kid that was still in high school.

“Completely different situation now.  I've been able to take advantage of that, kind of walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, Here is who I want to be, here is what I want to do, here is how I feel like we can win races, do it together.”

Logano also has found a team that has his back.  When he tangled with Hamlin and Stewart in last year's California race, it was none other than Roger Penske who stepped forward.

''Joey is a great driver and what happened at the end there wasn't anything more than hard racing,'' Penske said at the time.  ''I stand behind him and I think he's going to go down as one of the greatest drivers to ever race.''

Logano has matured in other ways.  When asked in Texas what other teams, besides Penske Racing, where off to good a start this year, he replied:  “I'm going to say a lot of the Stewart-Haas cars are really fast.  The 14 was fast today.  The 41 won last week.  The 4 is fast week in, week out.  They're quick.  You never count out Hendrick cars.  Roush cars have shown a lot of speed here recently.  I think even the Petty cars have shown a lot of speed here recently.”

Notice who he didn’t mention?  Any of the JGR teams.  While Busch has won and Kenseth is among the point leaders, all three teams have struggled this year.  Logano didn’t call them out by name or number, but the message was clear.

Final thought:  Did it seem a little too convenient to anyone else that Keselowski was caught speeding on pit road prior to the green-white-checker finish?  Running second, he had closed in on Logano, and then settled in a little more than a second back prior to the caution flag.  His speeding penalty certainly eliminated any questions about whether or not Brad, who with a win was already in the Chase, was racing Joey “100 percent” over the final three laps.  Probably a little early in the season for conspiracy theories, but I’ll tell you what, if someone needs to give up some places to a teammate come Richmond, speeding on pit road seems like a good way to do it.


  1. Wow, first off..Busch and Hamlin I am sure brought nothing to the table other than their own ego's and less than mature behavior. Following Logano for a long time, I would have to say having two immature teammates did NOT help him grow. JGR seems to be a babysitting service most of the time. Logano since stepping into Team Penske has been allowed and encouraged to thrive. The 3 wheel syndrome is alive and well at JGR, Hamlin last year looked like Logano did when he was there. And shame on you for throwing the tin foil hat theories so early in the season, that was a hard earned win for Logano and by stirring a pot of she et stew, you are cheapening a fantastic know your last paragraph was like a backhanded compliment..."I really think he did good..but....(insert fantasy garbage here)". With the sheeple reading this stuff you do realize you have a responsibility to report the truth and not throw out some speculative piece of narrative that doesn't do anything but promote nasty rumors. Most people are lazy today and cannot think for themselves. You do yourself and anyone who reads what you write a disservice. I look forward to your comments concerning any Hendrick team including the guys who lease their engines in the coming months at the closing laps when a teammate is around them. Why with you guys in the media you aren't happy unless you are stirring up a bunch of bull?. The world is full of true bull, no reason to make any up.

  2. My take is that Logano was also hurt by having a crew chief who thought he knew more about what Logano needed that Logano did.
    And I think all of the TRD Toyotos have been hurt by Childers move to S-H.

  3. Never like him, still don't. When he wrecked Newman and then blamed Newman for racing too hard at Michigan a few years ago, I lost any amount of respect, which was hardly any. Even Jeff Burton said Logano didn't show much respect.

    Still think that 22 ride should've been Hornish. All the testing he did for them, nearly winning championships in NW.

  4. Yes the ghost of Tony Stewart was alive and welll, Tony's 20 car, Tony's crew chief (for awhile), Tony's team, Tony's sponsor. And I agree with the above poster, about the setups, that always seemed to be a problem and the crew chief always won. As for Hornish, I like him he is a nice guy, but he had nowhere near the stats that Logano did, it is a business and Roger, Imo, was more than fair. Sam got robbed of NW trophy, but that wasn't Penske that was purely on the shoulders of Nascar with their excessive long run yellow in a extremely important race, it was all about setting up "excitment" for The Stupid Cowboy Hat Driver to take the 3 car into Cup.