Forgive Joey Logano if he has a secret love-hate relationship with the elimination-style Chase format. In the three years in which this system has determined the title, the Team Penske driver has won 14 races and scored 76 top-10 finishes. He’s had three straight years of championship-caliber racing — but no championship.
In 2016, Logano came tantalizingly close. With just a handful of laps remaining in the final race, Logano was battling Carl Edwards for position and a possible title. A late crash set up what looked like a perfect scenario for Logano, closing him up to within spitting distance of Edwards for the restart.
The green flag dropped, Logano charged — and Edwards blocked him until there was no more room and the pair spun. Logano escaped major damage but lost too much track position. He was relegated to a runner-up finish in the championship hunt.
Still, after winning three races and leading more than 700 laps last year, Logano keeps himself firmly near the top of the list of favorites for 2017. If he continues to put up the numbers he’s amassed in the last three years, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t win a title — or three — before he’s done. After eight full seasons in NASCAR’s top series, it’s easy to forget that Logano will be just 26 years old when the 2017 season kicks off. Think about that for a second: He’s easily got another 15 years of racing and probably more, meaning he could well post Hall of Fame numbers before he hangs up his helmet.
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The best move of Logano’s still-young career was moving to Team Penske in 2013. He clicked with teammate Brad Keselowski — just like Keselowski suspected he would when the team’s senior driver pitched him to owner Roger Penske in the first place.
Adding Logano to the lineup gave the team something it had been lacking compared to other title contenders: teamwork. Information sharing and working together on the track have elevated the organization as a whole as well as helped jump-start Logano’s career. In four lackluster seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, he won only two races and never finished higher than 16th in points.
Another person with whom Logano clicked at the start of his stint with Team Penske was crew chief Todd Gordon, who returns for his fifth year as head wrench for the No. 22 team. Gordon has blossomed into one of the top crew chiefs in the Premier Series in the four years that he’s been with the team. He’ll call the shots knowing he’s got strong equipment to work with. Penske’s Fords are the strongest on track right now, the Roush Yates power under the hood is both competitive and durable, and the team will continue to work with Wood Brothers Racing to gain even more information.
When Logano came on board with the No. 22 team, sponsor Shell-Pennzoil was looking for a driver who could give them long-term stability as well as one who could contend for wins. After a stormy year with Kurt Busch and a follow-up season that saw driver AJ Allmendinger let go midway through the season after a failed drug test, the sponsor needed a driver who could win races without ruffling too many feathers. While Logano has had some run-ins on the track, he’s brought the stability that his team and sponsor were looking for, and he’s delivered the wins as well. The company returns for another go-round in 2017, along with AAA and AutoTrader.com, who will sponsor the car in select races.
It would certainly appear that all systems are go for Logano and the No. 22 team kicking off 2017. He’s been close the last three years, and he won’t merely be close forever. If Logano can keep the focus on the season and not on his past disappointments, he’s in excellent position to seal the deal on a championship.