Can a team’s confidence be so shaken that it forgets how to perform? For Joey Logano and the No. 22 operation, it certainly looked that way in 2017.
Take the first quarter of Logano’s season: In nine races, he had eight top-10 runs, including six top 5s, capped off with a win at Richmond in April. The only race in which he didn’t finish in the top 10 during that stretch was Phoenix, where he won the pole but got caught in a crash. He sat safely in the top 5 in points during that period. Logano and Co. celebrated winning at Richmond, the driver’s second victory at the track.
And then it all came crashing down.
After the win, NASCAR found that the rear suspension on the No. 22 didn’t meet standards, and Logano was docked 25 points for the infraction. Worse, the win was encumbered, meaning Logano couldn’t use it as a ticket to the playoffs. But after the start he’d had, most people expected the team to win more races and to rebound on points.
Except neither happened. After Richmond, Logano went five weeks in a row without cracking the top 20, losing points to the competition hand over fist. Over the summer, he posted the occasional top 10 or top 5, but the team seemed deflated. The No. 22 faced more controversy at Loudon in July when NASCAR confiscated a suspension piece, but no penalty came of that one — and nothing came of the rest of Logano’s summer, either. He missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012, while teammate Brad Keselowski raced into the final four at Homestead.
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It’s hard to say that Team Penske’s Fords were behind in 2017, though the Toyotas had a stranglehold on the series. Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who raced in Penske equipment for Wood Brothers Racing, made the playoffs and posted top-10 points finishes. Roush Yates power was strong all around as well, and all of that is good news for Logano.
More good news: Logano has strong sponsorship from Shell-Pennzoil with AAA and AutoTrader picking up a couple of races apiece.
Crew chief Todd Gordon and Logano form one of the most formidable combinations in the series when things are going right. They communicate well, and the methodical Gordon balances a sometimes-excitable Logano most of the time. Gordon is a veteran in his own right, leading the No. 22 team since 2012. He meshed with Logano from the start, and the pair has amassed 16 of Logano’s 18 career victories. Team Penske has paired drivers and crew chiefs who work well together and win long term, and that’s made Logano and Keselowski especially dangerous.
Team Penske expands to three teams this season, adding Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins, who delivered Blaney his first career win last year. For Logano, that means more information shared — they’ll also still work with the Wood Brothers — and a young teammate who brings a fresh perspective.
On paper, all systems are go. The big question will be whether the team can put 2017 in the rearview mirror. Competition for the playoffs is stiff, but there’s reason to believe Logano should be able to get a piece of the pie.
“We haven’t changed anything,” Logano says, maintaining that his confidence level remains high. “It’s easy to say, ‘Man, you got to change something, right?’ The fact of the matter is this is a winning race team. What is there to change? We just had some bad luck.”