Previews, predictions and stats for Joey Logano and the No. 22 team
If you’ve earned the nickname “Sliced Bread,” as in the best thing since…, at some point you have to start living up to it on the racetrack. For Joey Logano, whose racing talent has been highly touted since he was too young to race in a NASCAR-sanctioned series, 2013 marks a second chance to prove it. It’s a critical point in his career, as the 22-year-old leaves Joe Gibbs Racing, the only stock car team he’s driven for, and takes the wheel for Roger Penske.
For Logano, who was labeled “best of his generation” at the tender age of 15, it’s apparent that he’s developed into a major-league talent. A threat to win every time he climbs into a Nationwide Series car, he posted nine victories in that series in 2012 and 18 over five partial seasons, making him a terror whenever he dips down to “Triple-A.” But entering his fifth full season of Cup competition in 2013, Logano has only two wins in NASCAR’s premier division, raising questions about just how much that potential will be realized when he has to race against the best this sport has to offer.
When analyzing Logano, it’s important to remember that he’s only 22. That was Jeff Gordon’s age when he was completing his first full season at the sport’s top level, a reminder that this driver still has time on his side. What he needs to go along with that is a patient organization, and all indications are he’ll have it. Hand-picked for his new job by Cup champ Brad Keselowski, Logano brings stability to a No. 22 team that’s been in turmoil for a good 12-14 months. The volatile Kurt Busch was dismissed from the team in December 2011, and his replacement, AJ Allmendinger, was suspended, then released for a failed drug test at midseason in 2012. Sam Hornish Jr. did double duty in his place, briefly lifting spirits, but the Nationwide Series title contender had other responsibilities. Once he was snubbed for the full-time Cup job, his focus shifted, and the performance of the No. 22 Dodge dropped considerably — again. With that type of track record, Penske was desperate for a young, clean-cut driver he could throw in to please a sponsor that’s connected directly with his automotive empire. Even in a worst-case scenario, it’d be a shock to see Logano get any less than two years behind the wheel.
That’s a relief for crew chief Todd Gordon, who will enter his sophomore season needing to learn to communicate with his third driver in 12 months. Well-versed in the Penske way, Gordon brings solid leadership to the team, which is important as Penske Racing transitions from Dodge race cars to Fords. The new 2013 body styles should help ease the transition there; that means that all teams, regardless of manufacturer, are starting from scratch when it comes to at-track notes. The bigger change may be a switch to Roush Yates engines, chosen to provide proven power in place of the longtime Penske program. The potential downside is that the Roush Yates shop also provides power for a half-dozen organizations, with 11 race teams among them, including three at direct rival Roush Fenway Racing. The question isn’t whether the Penske teams will be purposely given inferior engines, but rather how many teams the company can sustain without being stretched too thin — particularly in the short term. Penske has the ability to turn back to its own engine shop as a desperation move, but doing so midseason would be Chase suicide.
Logano does have one other weapon in his arsenal, and that’s the opportunity to work with Keselowski, a driver who has proven to be calculating and extremely smart on the racetrack. In the past, Logano has either allowed himself to be pushed around by others or become too aggressive in self-defense. Keselowski has found a balance in that area that earns him respect, and Logano could benefit from his tutelage.
So will “Sliced Bread” be Chase material in 2013? It’s probably at least a year early for that. What Logano needs to do first is prove that he can be consistently in position to win races, even if the win total doesn’t rise above one or two. In 2012, Logano finished on the lead lap only 50 percent of the time, a career low that needs to be corrected for long-term success. If Gordon can help make Logano more consistent with feedback and put him in a position where the right strategy could mean a top 10 instead of a top 15, it will be a huge step in the right direction. Only quality seat time will get him that — and quality seat time is exactly what Penske should give him.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
A change of scenary — from Joe Gibbs Racing to Penske Racing — may tell us a lot about Joey Logano, who at 22-years-old, is still a youngster.
“It is going to be interesting to see if he does better at Penske or not,” a rival crew chief says. “He could do better, but he might not. There was something off with him at Gibbs in the Cup program. To be so good in Nationwide, but average at best in the Cup Series is odd. … Moving to Penske, where there are two teams, but a good organization, might be what it takes to put him over the top. I was always baffled at how dominant he was in Nationwide and consistently beat guys in that series that he couldn’t beat on the Cup side.”
“In Cup it takes so many intangibles to be good,” another head wrench notes. “Maybe he is a little intimidated in Cup or maybe the change is just what he needed. Perhaps he just didn’t get along with his teammates. Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch) aren’t the easiest guys to get along with, so maybe Brad (Keselowski) will help him a little bit. … He’s either going to be the same or better. He's still young enough to have a very good Cup career even if it takes him a while.”
Looking at Checkers: Sat on the pole and beat ’em with speed at Pocono last season. That was a first.
Pretty Solid Pick: Logano has scored five top 10s in 10 points-paying starts at Charlotte. And in all fairness, he’s not a total back marker who got lucky in Loudon.
Good Sleeper Pick: He’ll have a good drafting partner on the plate tracks.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Averages a 26.0-place finish in Atlanta.
Insider Tip: Putting Logano with a new team (which is with a new manufacturer) makes for a real wild card. Temper any expectations.
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