Logano Is Gaining Acceptance Into Frat Party
PHOENIX, Ariz. – Knock, knock.
Until last season, when he made the NASCAR Chase playoff for the first time following four so-so seasons, Logano had been on the outside looking in, someone trying to knock down the door and gain entry into a small fraternity of Sprint Cup racing’s elite.
To be truthful, Logano still isn’t there. But to some notable admirers, he’s got a foot in the door.
“I think (Logano) is going to be a guy we have to deal with for a long time,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of a powerhouse NASCAR Sprint Cup series team, a four-car stable that includes six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon, two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne. “He’s growing up and has a tremendous amount of talent. Of the guys coming along, he’s super aggressive.”
When someone such as Hendrick talks, drivers listen. And Logano couldn’t believe what he was hearing when relayed Hendrick’s words.
“Wow. A compliment for sure,” said Logano, who last season moved to Penske Racing to drive the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford following a four-year stint at Joe Gibbs Racing. “To have someone like Rick Hendrick say something like that and also be able to drive for someone like Roger Penske, it just makes me proud of what I’ve done.”
ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett, a past driving champion and 3-time Daytona 500 winner, and legendary Richard Petty, a seven-time champion, also have spoken highly of Logano.
“Joey came in as a young driver and has done a nice job of getting better each year,” Petty said.
Said Jarrett: “I don’t have any doubt he’s going to make his mark in this sport. I think we’ll be talking about someone winning championships. He’s ready for that.”
All this for a driver with three career wins in five full seasons, a 23-year-old driver who Mark Martin once labeled the best thing since “sliced bread”?
“Mark wasn’t trying to do injustice or put any added pressure on Joey,” Jarrett said. “He was just stating a fact, that Joey was a tremendously talented driver that would make his mark in the sport.
“I think it created unfair expectations. When you’re that so-called ‘can’t miss’ person, it makes it difficult to overcome other people’s expectations.
“Then, he was thrown in a car that Tony Stewart drove, a driver who arguably may be one of the best drivers in the world ever. I think Joey handled the situation very well and I think he’s in a good position right now that’s going to be beneficial.
“I think that’s why you’re going to see him getting better and better. And by better, I mean winning more races each year. I can see him winning multiple times this year. If I had to pick 10 drivers that I think are candidates for the final four (at Homestead, Fla.), he’s one of them.”
Logano hopes Jarrett is right, hoping to also prove that 2013 was far from a mirage.
“DJ (Jarrett) is a Hall of Famer and knows what it takes to win championships,” said Logano, who finished 11th in the Daytona 500 and next starts in Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. “To hear that from guys of that caliber means a lot to me. It’s really cool to know they notice the progress I’m making.
“But I can’t let it go to my head because I’m not where I need to be yet.”
Like any driver, where Logano wants to be is at the head of the table. He wants to mimic what others have done year in and year out, which is make multiple appearances in victory lane.
Logano made significant inroads last season. Despite one win, he posted a career-high 11 top-five (tied for No. 4 among all drivers last season) and 19 top-10 finishes en route to a No. 8 finish.
Logano now believes he’s going in the right direction – up instead of down or sideways.
“This is the first year I can legitimately say we have a real shot at the championship,” Logano said. “I know I need to get more wins. But I feel like it’s coming. We have some momentum from the good season we had last year.”
Understandably, last year was so good and so new to what Logano experienced in four prior seasons – no finisher higher in standings than 16th – he pleaded for it not to end.
“I was having so much fun I wanted to keep racing,” Logano said. “I thought we really turned it around. At the beginning of the year, we would have a good race, a bad race, good race and another bad race. But as the season went along, we ended up being very consistent in the top five. I wanted to keep the momentum going.”
It’s why Logano hardly can wait for practice to begin Friday at PIR.
“There was a lot of pressure when I started driving (for the Gibbs organization in 2009),” Logano said. “I know people expected a lot out of me. I really thought it was going to be a little easier than it was, but it was a lot tougher than I expected. I’m glad I got through it. . .
“I feel like I haven’t lived up to what was expected of me at times, but now I think I am. I think I’m ready for the next step.”
– Mark Armijo is the long time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. He is also a frequent contributor to RacinToday.comOne Comment