Joey Logano looks forward to another try at MIS, where he won last August to make The Chase. (Jeff Zelevansky / Getty Images)
Joey Logano has matured into a rising star in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series after taking his lumps during his first several years while entering the scene as a teenager.
Logano, now 24 and in his sixth full season, is relaxed and confident driving the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford for Team Penske, where he is a teammate of Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski.
Logano had more pressure than any teenager should have when called at age 15 “the real deal” by Sprint Cup star Mark Martin, and the “greatest thing since sliced bread” by driver Randy LaJoie years later.
Logano entered the Sprint Cup scene as a driver for Joe Gibbs Racing at 18. He failed to live up to the hype, winning just two races in four years and losing his seat to Matt Kenseth after the 2012 season.
Ultimately, it ended up being the best thing that happened to Logano, who has flourished since car owner Roger Penske signed him to a multi-year contract.
Now, Logano will be racing on Penske’s home track Sunday in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
“This is obviously the place I want to be,” Logano said. “Roger is an amazing person and he wants to be successful, wants to win and has a passion for our sport. That’s the type of guy you want to be with. He’ll do whatever it takes to win a race and I’m the same way.”
Logano won a race and earned a spot in The Chase for the first time in his career last year, finishing eighth. He has won two races this year, locking him into The Chase’s 16-car field, especially since NASCAR has put a greater emphasis on winning with drivers earning a spot with a win.
“We came out of the gates really strong,” said Logano, who sits third in the points. “Team Penske did a good job of coming up with a good package for the new rules package, obviously some big changes with the downforce and the ride height rule changing quite a bit, that opens the book for us quite a bit on what we can do to our cars. I felt we did a good job in the offseason to make sure we came out strong at the beginning of the season.”
So, why has Logano been successful with Penske while he wasn’t able to get the same type of results with JGR, an elite team, earlier in his career?
“There’s a lot of pressure and I didn’t have the results to start either and that makes it very difficult for a lot of reasons,” explained Logano. “You think, you’re starting as an 18 or 19-year-old kid and you’re trying to lead a team. You are the team leader, the quarterback.
“In my eyes, the crew chief is the coach and the driver is the quarterback and that’s kind of how the team works out from there. And when you’re doing that at 18 or 19 with guys who are old enough to be your dad, it’s kind of hard. And when you’re not going out there and getting the results you need, it becomes even harder because you don’t have nothing backing you up.”
Now, Logano is making the most of his opportunity with Penske.
“I feel like making this move to Team Penske and working with Roger, it kind of gives you that second shot,” Logano said. “And now it’s like, ‘OK, I was able to do more when I was at age 22 or a 23-year-old, as a man, and join the team as a 22-year-old man, not an 18-year-old kid.’ It’s that maturity process that you have to go through.
“Someone changes a lot (from age 18 to 22) and I know a lot from the race car and I know what I need in a race car and I was teamed up with a great crew chief, Todd Gordon (with Penske). We’ve worked really well together and we’re on the same page, the same level together, and we’ve been able to make the most of that opportunity.”
Logano is looking forward to running at MIS … and for good reason. He won at the two-mile superspeedway last August, which sent him on his journey for a Chase spot.
“Michigan was a big turning point,” Logano said. “That win was big to get us in the Chase and then we consistently finished in the top five leading into Richmond, gaining a lot of points we lost early in the season.
“I don’t know about football, but I’d assume if you put a new quarterback in with a new coach, then there’s going to be a learning curve. They have to kind of figure each other out and learn that chemistry and what works and that’s how it was with us in our first year.
“It took us a half-year, until you come back to that same racetrack with your notebook, so now you have something to go off of, where you missed so you can build from there. What you see this year is a product of that because now we’re at those tracks a third time together.”
Logano and his Penske teammate have been criticized for over-aggressive driving on re-starts at times this season.
“I get paid to win the race,” Logano said. “You better make all the time you can on re-starts, when everybody’s close, and take advantage of situations. There might be a little smaller hole than you’d like it to be, but you have to stuff it in there, you have to go for it, that’s the only way you move up through the field to be there at the end.”
Logano said he works well with Keselowski, who also has a win this season and finished second the last two weeks at Dover and Pocono.
“I think we work really well together,” Logano said. “Our two cars are built from the shop (in Charlotte) exactly the same and we have capabilities when we’re at the racetracks where we can put Brad’s setup in my car in a few minutes or mine in his. We talk a lot about what our cars are doing. It’s a good fit.”
And, Logano hopes his season ends the same way Keselowski’s did in 2012, as the series champion.