Joey Logano comes of age in breakout season
May 20, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
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Before the start of the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, even when hopes are highest and optimism prevails, few outside his robust fan club predicted that come the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day, Joey Logano would be tied for the series lead in wins.
Not only is he tied with veteran Kevin Harvick with a Cup-best two victories, but he's also atop the Chase Grid for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason field based on wins and accumulated points.
"Sliced Bread" as the racing prodigy was once known -- as in "the best thing since …" -- Logano is not only living up to his early career hype these days, but he's also leading the way.
And having fun -- thanks largely to NASCAR's new championship format that places much emphasis on victories, a go-for-broke style that apparently suits the still so youthful Logano well.
"It turns every race into an All-Star Race in a way," said Logano, who turns 24 on Saturday. "I think that's what NASCAR wanted and I think that's what the fans wanted, something that forces you to make those crazy moves and make those gutsy pit calls because you look at it like you've got nothing to lose.
"If you don't have a win, you've got to race like that because you've got nothing to lose.
"I think the points system definitely plays into the fans hands. I think that it makes for some really good racing out there, and a lot of guys don't really think about points that much.
"I'm sure Jeff Gordon likes being in the points lead and that's something pretty cool to have, but at the same time, it's like, 'Hey, that doesn't really mean anything.' "
Whether it's the shift in in championship format or settling into his second year driving for the championship Team Penske or just plain, coming of age, Logano is proving his staying power.
He is already well ahead of previous efforts statistically. This is his first multi-win year in six full-time Cup seasons. He has six top-five finishes in 11 races -- already better than half of his best season tally (11 top-fives in 2013).
Four of them -- including his two wins -- have come in the last six races. The events he didn't finish top-five in the No. 22 Ford -- at Darlington and Talladega -- were because of a mechanical issue and being collected in a crash, respectively.
Meanwhile, six-time champ Jimmie Johnson, three-time champ Tony Stewart and perennial favorites such as Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne are still winless.
All circumstances not lost on the others, who are starting to see proof that Logano has gone from promising young driver to legitimate championship challenger.
"Obviously, he's really, really competitive -- it's pretty tough for me to sit here in May and pick out a contender for who's going to be the contenders in September and October and November," said Kenseth, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who took over Logano's No. 20 Toyota Camry last year.
"Certainly, I think since the whole shuffle happened I think all three of us have run better.
"You don't see that happen very often and I'm really happy for Joey. He's had a lot of success and I'm sure it was hard going through what he did for those couple months and wondering if he was going to be there or not be there and he certainly handled it like he’s much older than he is -- handled it better than almost anybody in the garage could have handled it and went over there and has been winning races and running better than he’s ever run.
"I've been real happy to see that and happy for him and certainly I think he's been a contender more weeks than not for sure."
Logano's wins not only provide some peace of mind, they are tangible assets to the Penske operation in terms of being able to start preparing for postseason -- both practically and philosophically.
"Having those two wins definitely helps for when we get past Richmond (regular-season finale) and head into (first Chase race) Chicago and we have a couple wins there and some bonus points to help us get through the first round," Logano said.
"I think that's a really big deal and that's why we want to win a few more before we get there. You never what can happen. ... But so far, we're doing what we need to do."