A year ago, NASCAR’s Joey Logano was driving with his career on the line. Now, he’s racing to become the youngest Sprint Car champion in nearly 65 years.
The change in Logano’s fortunes became evident last week when he signed a multiyear extension to continue driving the No. 22 Ford for Team Penske just a few days after he won at New Hampshire, his fourth victory of the season.
That win assured Logano’s advancement to the Contender Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, which begins with the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday.
“It’s really nice, because I’ve been through the down parts of the sport,” Logano, 24, said of the extension, “and to be able to extend my relationship with Team Penske is a dream come true. I’ve found myself a home … so it makes sense to try to prolong that as long as possible.”
After four seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, where Logano was expected to be the next big thing, he was dropped following the 2012 season in favor of Matt Kenseth. Brad Keselowski, coming off his Sprint Cup championship, convinced Penske to hire Logano for the vacant seat in the No. 22, and after some rough patches last year, they’ve been the best 1-2 punch in the garage.
Keselowski has won a series-most five races this season, and Logano’s four wins this season are one more than in his time with Gibbs. Logano led all drivers with a 3.0 average finish in the Contender Round of the Chase, followed by Keselowski’s 3.3 mark.
“Only a couple of years ago I really didn’t have a job,” said Logano, who is engaged to be married in December. “It was like, ‘Oh boy, what am I going to do? Am I going to race the rest of my life? What’s Plan B?’ And all of a sudden I’m sitting in a good position. I’ve got a multiyear deal that I’m going to be racing for a while. I’m winning races. We’ve got a lot of top fives. If you would have told me all of this was going to happen a couple years ago I would have said, ‘Yeah, that’s nice. I don’t know if that will happen, but it sounds really good.’
“You talk about the experience I got from all that and I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. I love that I went through each and every experience that I’ve gone through, because that’s what shaped me into who I am and the driver and person that I am now.”
Logano has benefited from his relationship with Keselowski in Penske’s two-car garage as opposed to his situation at Gibbs, where he seemed to be the odd-man out with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
“There are only two of us, so if we don’t get along, that’s all of Team Penske not getting along,” Logano said, “so we’ve got to make sure we have a good relationship and are able to work great together. Did I have that at Gibbs? I did at times, yes. I got along with them, but I think you talk about chemistry and being able to just communicate and being at the same level as the guys you’re racing with on your team, I think that’s important, and that’s something maybe I didn’t have as much over there.”
Logano qualified for the Chase last year for the first time in his Sprint Cup career, winning at Michigan and finishing eighth in the standings. That built the foundation for this season and convinced Penske to extend his contract.
“I look at what we did last year, and we went through a lot of adversity, from really the beginning of the season all the way to the halfway point of the season,” said Logano. “We had a lot of drama. We had a lot of new guys on the team. We had a new car chief, a new engineer, a new shock guy — a new driver, obviously — so all of us gelling together took some time to figure out and it took some time for (crew chief) Todd (Gordon) and myself to understand each other and figure out what we needed at each race track.
“I’m sure (Penske) wanted to make sure that we ran well again this year … and make sure it’s not like a one-year wonder.’’
Logano is wise beyond his years on the track, which gives him confidence he can become the youngest Sprint Cup champion since Bill Rexford, who was 23 in 1950, the second season of NASCAR’s existence.
“That’s a huge advantage that I have right now is that I’m 24 years old with six years of experience under my belt,” Logano said. “There’s no one else who can say that right now. Experience pays off in NASCAR racing more than the age does. …
“I feel confident enough to win this. As a team, we’ve done what we need to do to get to this point to be able to have a shot at it. I feel like my head is in the right spot. I know I can’t do it on my own, and I know I have the guys behind me who have the same attitude as me and want it just as bad as me, and that’s why I feel we have a good shot at it.”