Driver excited to work with Keselowski's championship team
Joey Logano’s eyes light up when he tells the story. It’s a funny story, a true story and a story about the first time he and Brad Keselowski, now teammates at Penske Racing, had any interaction on the race track.
“My first Nationwide race at Dover; I’m as green as can be, right?” Logano says, grinning. “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I pull up on the race track for practice … and I pulled right out in front of him.
“I get to the back straightaway and (Keselowski) comes blowing by me and he’s flipping me off and I’m still in third gear. I didn’t even get into fourth gear and I’m getting flipped off by Brad.
“I’m like, ‘Holy cow, what did I get myself into?’ So that was my first Nationwide start and the first time I got near Brad.”
"I think both of us like the same thing in a race car and that’s important to have in a teammate."
-- Joey Logano on Brad Keselowski
Since that day in 2008, their paths have crossed many times -- even though Logano was tossed headfirst into NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series the following season, while Keselowski wasn’t fully immersed until 2010.
Now they’re teammates. Partners. Co-conspirators of a sort, hoping to keep the flames lit on the Penske Racing rocket that carried Keselowski to the Sprint Cup championship barely three months ago.
Logano calls it a fresh start for himself, but speaks no ill of a seven-year career (dating back to a Pro Cup effort) spent with Joe Gibbs Racing. “When you’re 15 years old (when you start with a team), that’s a … majority of your life,” he said. “It was bittersweet leaving there, but I’m looking forward to coming to Penske.”
When Tony Stewart, who won two Cup titles and 33 races at JGR, departed at the end of ’08, Logano suddenly held the keys to one of the most sought after Cup rides in the garage.
He was 18.
“I wasn’t even close to being ready,” Logano admitted. “I wish I’d been older when they booted me up so quick. It might have made my life a little easier. ...But it’s not an experience I’d ever want to change.”
Logano, now 22, has two career wins in the Cup series and a best points finish of 16th. At various times he’s been called everything from one of the most talented young drivers in the sport to an underachiever.
That he has now landed at Penske Racing would seem to lend credence to the former.
Keselowski has nine career Cup wins and a championship. Logano said he believes he can help his teammate become an even better driver. “And I know he’s going to help me,” Logano said.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat. We’ve raced against each other for a long time. It was exciting to get to Charlotte the first time (to test) and look at his data and compare it to my data, see what it was like and what we do different. I think both of us like the same thing in a race car and that’s important to have in a teammate.
“(The way) he presents himself around his team, around the media, there’s a lot to learn there for me.”
Keselowski, crew chief Paul Wolfe and others within the organization must deal with a shift in manufacturer support (fielding Fords now that Dodge has departed) and attempt to decipher the new Generation-6 car.
Logano has that on his plate, and also finds himself surrounded by a host of unfamiliar faces -- new crew chief Todd Gordon, spotter Tab Boyd, new crewmen going over the wall as well as new ones back at the shop. The getting-to-know-you period likely won’t be complete by the time the No. 22 team loads up and heads south for the season-opening Daytona 500 later this month.
“I think we know all the new things … will come with a learning curve,” Logano said. “But I think we can get through that pretty quick. It’s a pretty tight-knit group.
“Working with a new group of guys that just so happened to win the championship last year, that’s pretty awesome to be a part of. I couldn’t have picked a better place.”
Gordon believes the key for the team is to build chemistry and move forward. He and Logano have so much in common, he said, “it has been almost eerie.”
“Our personalities are very close,” Gordon said of his new driver, who led a career-best 190 laps last season and won at Pocono, but ended the year 17th in points.
“What he’s done (previously) gives you his resume and gives him credibility,” Gordon said. “… I think he’s been a refreshing, much deeper person than what I anticipated when he came in. He’s been a racer his whole life.
“I got to work with Brad in 2011 on the Nationwide side and that’s part of what our program can really benefit from. Paul and myself have good relationship with Brad; Joey has good relationship with Brad. Our core group is one (unit). It’s not two. I think in the long run that can make our whole program better.”
In a bit of a twist, Logano will be the first Penske driver competing in 2013 when he and his team take part in The Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, a non-points race for 2012 pole winners. Logano won two poles a year ago while Keselowski managed a best starting spot of third in 36 attempts.
It’s a major bonus, Logano said, since it will allow his team to work together in race conditions for the first time without the pressure of a points race.
“To be able to have that one race of experience, it’s like a preseason game,” he said. “Still, we want to go out there and win. It pays a lot of money and winning anything at Daytona -- I’ve said it before, winning a tricycle race at Daytona would be awesome.”