Logano Has Arrived As A Sprint Cup Driver
Joey Logano still looks like he just stepped off the set of a John Hughes movie: He still looks like he should be kicked out of a kegger by jocks flaunting their high school letter jackets. That’s why it’s so hard to believe that we’ve been asking Logano questions about his progress toward maturity for seven years now.
We’ve also all been wondering during the first month and a half of the 2014 season: Is the 23-year-old dude with the fresh from science class-face was ready to tackle more mature roles on NASCAR race tracks.
Thanks to a bizarre late-race caution and the ensuing green/white/checkered finish at Texas Motor Speedway on Monday, we now have the answer. Today, Logano is a racing man.
Absolutely because he won. But more because of how he won.
Logano, called everything from a waste to a wuss during the first five full seasons as a Sprint Cup driver, won the way that racers win races. He led large portions of the second half of an evet at a tough 1.5-mile Texas oval, kept his stuff together when that late caution erased a big lead and a certain victory, kept his tires planted on the final restart and then hung with and , soon, passed a four-time Cup champion who was driving a Hendrick rocket to get the victory.
It was Logano’s first victory of the season; it was his first victory on a 1.5 quad-oval; it was his fourth career victory; it was a statement victory with the statement being that he ready for the career that had been predicted for him since karts.
Logano, of course, is the former boy wonder bread kid whom no less an authority than Mark Martin said was
ready for Cup when the he was still an underclassman – in high school.
As a 16/17-year-old in NASCAR ladder series in 2007, Logano did indeed look like all that. The following year in Nationwide, he again showed well. In fact, even after going to Cup full time in 2009, Logano was terrific when he forayed into Nationwide races.
But in Joe Gibbs Racing Cup cars, with teammates like Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, Logano looked lost.
And the eyes began to roll and the accusations about Logano’s lack of maturity grew and festered: Never mind he was college-aged during all of it.
He was no Kyle Busch, the doubters said: Never mind that nobody is a Kyle Busch.
After the 2012 season – a season in which Logano won just one race and had just two top-five finishes in 36 Cup starts – Logano was out at JGR.
When it was announced that he had been hired to drive for Team Penske – given the job over veteran, likable and suddenly promising Sam Hornish Jr. – some wondered what the hell Roger Penske was thinking.
Now we know. Logano was in need of something he could not get at JGR. Something he has gotten at Team Penske.
Logano was asked after his Texas victory on Monday – a victory which most likely puts him in the Chase and in a new light among those in the media centers and grandstands – what is suddenly making him and the No. 22 Ford so competitive all of a sudden.
“There’s a lot,” he said. “I talked a little bit earlier about the first time I came here, I think it was the 02 (JGR) car, and I ran absolutely terrible. I think I finished 38th (actually, it was 40th) and I didn’t hit anything. I didn’t have an excuse for finishing 38th, I just ran that bad. I didn’t know what I was doing. You’re 18 years old with less than half a season of Nationwide under your belt and you get thrown into a tough situation, but I didn’t realize that at the time.
“And then over the years I’ve been able to kind of hone in on who I am as a driver, who I am as a person because you’re 18 years old and you’ve got to grow up. You’re not quite done growing up at that point, and I may not be now, but I feel like I’m getting closer.”
Yes, because Logano has gotten older and more experienced.
But also because he has been inserted into a situation that fits.
“When I was able to go to Team Penske,” Logano said, “kind of get that fresh start and be able to take everything you’ve learned there, but you’re not taken as the 18-year-old kid anymore. I came over there and I was 22 and you’re looked a little bit more as a man, instead of an 18-year-old kid. I was still in high school, so I’m in a completely different situation now and I’ve been able to take advantage of that and kind of walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, ‘Here’s who I want to be. Here’s what I want to do. And here’s how I feel we can win races and do it together.’
“Todd (Gordon, his current crew chief) and I have many discussions about all of that and how I feel like I needed to be because on the Nationwide side at JGR I felt like I had that, but I didn’t have it on the Cup side yet. I knew I had to have that same attitude that I had in Nationwide and that same relationship and confidence on the Cup side for me to run well, and we’ve been able to do that and you see the results show for that. I used to race a lot more confident and aggressive in a Nationwide car than I did in a Cup car, and now it’s the same. I’m here to win and I feel like the competitors see that now.”
They should. Logano’s Texas win was not only impressive in and of itself, it capped an early season in which he has logged four top-four finishes in seven races. He has led laps in all but one of those severn races.
Logano has won a poll and has started no worse than 10th under NASCAR’s new “knockout” qualifying system.
The 22 Team Penske car has become a fixture at the front of fields. And Logano knows the effect of that on critics and competitors alike.
“When you run up front enough they don’t look at you as the guy that’s going to run up there once every 10 races,” he said. “It’s every single week right now and we’ve got to keep that going. It’s a lot of hard work to keep that going, but to come here the first time and finish (40th) to victory lane five or six years later is pretty awesome. I used to dread coming here and now it’s one of my favorite race track. I told Todd before we came here I was like, ‘Man, I just feel like we’re going to win this week.’ I felt really confident and now I’ve got a cool ring. You know what’s cool about this, my fiancé got a ring when we got engaged and now I’ve got something too.”
Even though he still looks like a prime candidate to be on the receiving end of a post-gym-class wedgie, Joey Logano will never again be kicked out of a keg party.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments