The NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend in Fort Worth, Texas, started wet, got wild, settled down, then ended with a bang. Through it all, 23-year-old Joey Logano was in the thick of the action.
Logano led a race-high 108 of 340 laps in the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway en route to collecting his first win of the season and second under the watchful eye of motorsports icon Roger Penske.
More and more, he’s proving to be the right man for Penske’s No. 22 Ford after getting the call to join the organization prior to the 2013 season.
“Over the years I’ve been able to kind of hone in who I am as a driver, who I am as a person,” Logano said of his progression. “When you’re 18 years old (his age during his rookie season), you got to grow up — you’re not quite done growing up at that point. I may not be now (but) I feel like I’m getting closer.
“I was able to go to Team Penske, get that fresh start, be able to take everything (I) learned (prior, at Joe Gibbs Racing), but not be taken as an 18-year-old kid anymore. I came over when I was 22. You’re looked at a little bit more as a man than an 18-year-old kid that was still in high school.”
Logano was viewed as a phenom during his rapid ascent to the Sprint Cup Series. Hailed as the sport’s “future” as a 14-year-old by respected NASCAR veteran Mark Martin, the hype and expectations surrounding Logano grew to near unattainable levels.
A rocky four seasons at powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing — with incompatible teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin — in which Logano tallied two wins, 16 top 5s and zero Chase bids, found him on the outside looking in following the 2012 season. When his contract, as well as that of Ford rival Matt Kenseth, came up the sponsors of Logano’s No. 20 ride were in favor of greener pastures. Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champ was in, Logano was out.
However, a confidence-building landing pad came in the form of Team Penske and its defending champion, Brad Keselowski.
It was Keselowski who openly lobbied the Penske brass to hire Logano.
“Brad Keselowski played a really big role in getting me in here and getting a meeting with Roger Penske,” Logano told USA Today shortly after his hire. “He was the one who called me and said, ‘Hey, this is a great opportunity for you.’
“That means a lot to have a teammate that really wants you there.”
Logano’s character also factored into the hire, as Penske’s No. 22 seat had previously been a hot one. Kurt Busch was released from the organization after multiple on- and off-track run-ins with team members and the media. His replacement, AJ Allmendinger, was promptly removed from the ride just half a season later when he failed a drug test. That left mega-sponsor Shell-Pennzoil demanding the right man step into the role.
And that’s when Keselowski’s earlier suggestion to consider Logano piqued the interest of team president Tim Cindric.
“I can’t say enough about how supportive Shell-Pennzoil has been through a little bit of turmoil that we’ve been in the last nine months,” Cindric said in September 2012, shortly after Logano’s hire. “We had to be even more in concert with them than we have ever been with a sponsor in terms of trying to understand what the right fits are to ensure we get it right.
“There was an extra sensitivity around ensuring that we had someone with the right character in the car.”
Logano hasn’t just been the right fit from a PR perspective; the Connecticut native, now in his sixth full season in the Cup Series, is delivering on the earlier expectations.
A first-time Chase entrant in his first season with Penske, Logano now has two wins and 15 top 5s in 42 starts behind the wheel of the No. 22 Ford. That equals his win total and is only one top-5 shy of his marks over a 144-race tenure at JGR.
“(It’s a) completely different situation now,” Logano said after his Texas win on Monday. “I’ve been able to take advantage of (experience), kind of walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, ‘Here is who I want to be, here is what I want to do, here is how I feel like we can win races, do it together.’”
NASCAR Mailbox:Team Penske's success an unexpected twist
In Monday’s rain-delayed Texas event, “win races” is exactly what Logano did — and he held off the best to do so.
Outdueling current teammate Keselowski, former teammate Kyle Busch and four-time champion Jeff Gordon in a green-white-checker finish, Logano followed through when it mattered after exhibiting the dominant car of the day; promise delivered.
“I was able to follow (Gordon) through, get to second, get a run off of (turn) four, cross him over, get the lead — then we get the win,” Logano said of the final two laps of his most-recent triumph. “We’ve been in contention every race this year to win these things. To get the Shell-Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane, it means a lot.”