The greatest thing since ‘Sliced Bread’ had a rocky road his first four full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but Joey Logano proved in 2013 during his first year at Penske Racing that he has indeed more than potential, as he competed with the best and became a title contender in NASCAR.
Logano demonstrated in 2013 the ability to compete with the finest competition that NASCAR can offer this season, making the Chase and finishing eighth overall in the point standings. He produced two poles and earned a victory; plus, only three other drivers had more top fives than Logano during this past year. It was by far the best season of his career.
And considering Joey’s career has spanned six years and five full seasons, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 23 years old, making him by far the youngest full-time driver in Sprint Cup. By the way, the honor of youngest full-time participant in Sprint Cup will turn to 21 year old Californian Kyle Larson who will drive as a rookie for Chip Ganassi in 2014.
It seems a long time ago when a lanky kid from Connecticut was the hot-shoe teenager who everyone raved about, including former Nationwide series champ Randy LaJoie who called Logano the greatest thing since ‘Sliced Bread’. That nickname has stayed around even though Joey hasn’t measured up to that lofty status quite yet.
After winning against men twice or even three times his age in the lower ranks of stock car racing, Logano was signed by Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and eventually replaced Tony Stewart who left to start his own team. He earned his first pole in Nationwide in just his second race and then in only his third start, after turning the tender age of 18 three weeks earlier, Logano was victorious, becoming the youngest driver in history to win a Nationwide race.
In 2009, he began his full-time Cup career driving the familiar #20 Home Depot JGR car that Stewart had made famous with many wins and multiple championships. Replacing a future Hall of Famer isn’t easy but after a rough start to the year that saw Logano with no finish better than ninth through the first 16 races, Joey won his first Cup race at Loudon, which is just a couple hours north of where he grew up. He finished 20th overall in his rookie year.
Up, then down
In 2010, Logano didn’t win but was able to move to 16th in the final standings due in part to a string of successful finishes near the end of the year. With momentum on his side, there were signs Joey was ready to break out in 2011. However, five straight races outside the Top 20 to start the year offered up little in the way of positives for the still young Logano, including just six Top 10s for the entire season and a 24th place finish overall.
2012 was set up as a do-or-die year for Logano at JGR and although he had improved over the prior year by finishing 17th in the final standings and winning a race from the pole at Pocono, it wasn’t nearly enough and Logano was let go. And yet, Roger Penske saw the potential and was willing to take a shot at him after the debacle of the Kurt Busch fiasco followed by A.J. Allmendinger’s mess. That faith paid off.
It should be noted that while Logano struggled in Cup, he had many successes in the Nationwide series. Logano has entered 125 Nationwide events and has an astounding winning percentage of 17% (21 wins). In fact, Joey’s last year at JGR in 2012, he won nine times in just 22 races. This past season at Penske, he entered 15 Nationwide events and won three with 12 Top 10s.
The future is emerging brighter for Logano. His success at Penske may be as much a part of getting rid of the aspirations of ‘Sliced Bread’ or living up to being the next Tony Stewart – and instead, Logano can just be the next, well, Joey Logano. A championship may be in the offing yet, and who’s to say Logano could end up being as accomplished as Tony Stewart? Time will tell … heck, he’s only 23.
Additional source: Racing Reference