When Joey Logano won the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series title, he did it not by dazzling the field with wins, but by consistently finishing in the mix. With that experience on his side, Logano was looking to do the same thing in 2020. His season kicked off with a bang, as Logano won two of the first four races. But momentum is a funny thing, and the two-month pause in the early part of the season killed Logano's. His summer, while solid, wasn't a model of consistency.
The playoffs were another matter. Logano finished in the top 15 in nine of 10 races and forced his way into the conversation entering the final race at Phoenix despite possessing the fewest wins (three) among the four contenders. His final race was a microcosm of his entire year — he was strong and in the discussion, but not quite fast enough to take the race or the title, finishing third.
Logano comes back with everything from 2020 intact. Fast Team Penske Ford? Check. Strong teammates in Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney as well as quasi-teammate Matt DiBenedetto? Check. Sponsorship on board from Shell-Pennzoil, AAA, Auto Trader, and Money Lion? Roush-Yates power under the hood? Crew chief Paul Wolfe back on board? Check, check, and check. All of these ingredients make Logano a contender out of the gate.
In fact, that crew chief relationship with Wolfe should be stronger in 2021 now that the pair has a season together. Former racer Wolfe has a driver's mentality when it comes to race strategy and provides the leadership on the pit box to make that strategy work. As an organization, Team Penske's strength is as much in its three crew chiefs as in its drivers, and Wolfe and Logano still have potential to grow. They're only going to get better together with time.
Though the 2020 title went to a Chevrolet driver, Ford won the manufacturer's championship on the strength of an 18-win season among five drivers, including all three from Team Penske, the only organization to send every driver to Victory Lane.
That's a testament to the organization's ability to work together to get stronger. Satellite organization Wood Brothers Racing also secured a playoff berth with DiBenedetto, who has proven to be an asset to the team and to the Penske umbrella as well.
What sets Logano apart as a driver? He's one of the most aggressive wheelmen on the track, and he backs down from nobody. That gets him every position he can possibly get in many races. It's rare that he'll let a faster car by without a fight, and he's not afraid to use his bumper if he's got the faster car. He's a bold, physical driver.
That style doesn't make Logano a lot of friends. Racing is a delicate balance among drivers. Most race others the way they're raced, and that means a driver who crosses the line one too many times winds up with a target on his back. We don't usually see the payback these days that once upon a time would have come down eventually, but drivers who push the limits get noticed, and they will get zero slack when they need it. And it's likely that, at some point, they'll cross someone as aggressive as they are. Logano knows all too well what happens when the wrong driver gets tired of his aggression late in the playoffs, so he'll need to curb his enthusiasm when it will serve him.
Also, he's got to win. Consistency will get a driver into the playoffs, and consistency like Logano showed in the postseason last year will get him deep — but recent history has shown that winning is necessary to take the crown. That's where Logano fell just a bit short last year. This year, he needs to prove he can close to be a real contender.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2021 Cup Championship: 7/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)