For Joey Logano, 2021 was a tale of two drivers: one who seemed to always be knocking at the door at the front of the pack, posting nine finishes of 11th or better in the 10-race playoff stretch — and the one who couldn’t quite take those wins and failed to finish five races.
Usually the Logano who showed up was the one fans have come to know in recent years — a driver who consistently posts solid finishes, top 15s if not top 10s, and he put himself in good position late in the season based on that ability to be there at the end. But in 2021, it just wasn’t quite good enough for the 31-year-old to make himself a serious title contender.
Logano’s lone win was a big one: He became the first Cup driver to win on dirt in the modern era as he took the win on the revamped surface at Bristol in the spring, and it assured him of at least one victory in each of his last 10 seasons in the Cup Series. Only two drivers, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, enter 2022 with a longer intact streak.
For Logano, the driver whom Keselowski hand-picked to be his teammate at Team Penske, 2022 marks a big change: With Keselowski’s departure from the organization, Logano is now Team Penske’s senior wheelman, a role he’s never had before. He’s capable of being a team leader, and his teammates, Ryan Blaney and rookie Austin Cindric, can certainly look to his consistency as a model for a strong season. He’ll also have Harrison Burton to share information with at Wood Brothers Racing, a Penske satellite organization.
Keselowski’s new ownership role at Roush Fenway (now Roush Fenway Keselowski) Racing could bring about a closer relationship between the two Ford teams, and if that were to happen, it could boost performance across the board for the manufacturer.
Logano and primary sponsor Shell-Pennzoil are a package deal at Team Penske, with contracts running through 2023, and Logano enters his third year working with crew chief Paul Wolfe. They’re a formidable pair, aggressive on the track and in strategy moves, with former racer Wolfe comfortable putting the race in his driver’s hands knowing Logano will take every position he can get.
The pair will need that confidence in each other this year without the information contributed by the veteran Keselowski. But they also have opportunity in what they’ll glean from Cindric — young drivers can bring ideas to the table that change the way a veteran approaches race preparation, and if Logano and Wolfe are able to use Cindric’s fresh perspective to inject speed into the No. 22, then it could spell trouble for his competition, particularly late in the season after the organization has had a chance to jell and just in time for a playoff run. Yes, the loss of Keselowski is a big one for the entire Penske organization, but it doesn’t spell disaster by any means.
Logano has left little doubt that he’s immensely talented. Touted as a future champion even as a young teen, Logano has only become more formidable as he’s aged. He can kill the competition with consistency — his 2018 title run was built on that foundation before he delivered the knockout punch in the final race. He’s gotten better at taming his aggression, but can still be his own worst enemy, and he needs to be careful picking his battles with other drivers. Aggression can win races, but it can take wins away, too.
The new racecar is, of course, a curveball, but it’s one every team will have to face this year. If the Fords were a half step behind in 2021, this is an opportunity to gain an advantage — the blue ovals were very fast in early testing of the car. If they suit Logano, he can certainly have the kind of season that sets up a playoff run.