NASCAR Illustrated: Up Front with Joey Logano
July 16, 2014, NASCAR Illustrated, NASCAR.com
Even in tough times, Joey Logano has never had much difficulty smiling. The Team Penske driver’s infectious laugh and perma-grin were on full display during the Sprint All-Star weekend in Charlotte.
And why not?
With two early wins in his pocket and a Chase berth already secured, Logano is poised to contend for the Sprint Cup championship. His breakout season included not only victories at Texas and Richmond but a series-best six top-five finishes in the first 11 races of the season.
A week shy of his 24th birthday, Logano playfully took us to task for ranking him 15th in our 2014 season preview issue. The interview began with a copy of the magazine onhand. —Kris Johnson
NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Look where we have you ranked. …
JOEY LOGANO: Did you do this to me? Why'd you do this to me? I’m just trying to prove you wrong (laughs).
NI: Yes, we saw the quotes from Darlington where you said that.
LOGANO: I did, I did. I called you out!
NI: Does that really serve as a source of motivation for you?
LOGANO: Yeah, I'm motivated to win no matter what but I was surprised to see it because I felt like I was way better than that, my team was way better than that. We did a good job last year for the first time with the team and learning each other and figuring everything out. We won a race and got a lot of top-fives. So this year should be better, that's what I thought, but then you guys ranked me 15th.
NI: You're proving us wrong so far. Can you pinpoint some of the major factors behind your fast start this year?
LOGANO: For one, it's the second year with Todd [Gordon]. He is an amazing crew chief and we work together great. I think we have that relationship, that friendship we need. He knows what I need in a race car to race well and we know how to practice to work to get that. I think that’s important. One of the key things we got now, we got a notebook to go off of from last year. So that’s big. I've got a better relationship with Brad [Keselowski] now and our pit crew has picked it up. We’re still not where we need to be but we’re making progress. I think the rules package has fit into my hands some. I feel like we just clicked.
NI: You've had a lot less drama surrounding yourself this year. Does not having those distractions help out a lot with performance?
LOGANO: You're not talking about that, right? Not just to media but your team. You're talking about how to make that race car faster, so yes, that’s a good thing. You stand up for yourself when you need to but at the same time, it is a distraction. We're all gonna say it's not a distraction but when you look back at it when you're done, it is.
NI: Did going through some of the stuff with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart last year help you grow as a competitor? Any lessons learned there?
LOGANO: I'm able to look back and see how I handled the situation and ways of doing things different or if I'm happy with the way I did things. I have to stand up for myself and I do feel like I've been raced a lot better since then and raced fair. If I race someone hard, I expect to get raced hard back. I expect that. If I race someone clean, I expect to get raced clean back. And I feel like I see that now whereas before people would push you around or whatever. I don't have that anymore. I think a lot of it obviously comes from being consistently up front in contention to win but also it comes from being here, standing up for yourself and being a man about it.
NI: A lot of people say you’ve finally reached your potential at 23. Is that fair, and how do you feel about how your career has played out to this point?
LOGANO: I needed some time to mature, learn how to drive a race car, learn what I need and be surrounded with great people and I’m there now. I got the guys I need, I feel like I'm in position to win a championship this year and that’s awesome. One of the best things about it is you’re 23 years old; I'm still younger than Austin Dillon. To be doing it for six or seven years now, I'm the only one in the position that has that experience at 23 years old. That's awesome. That's cool because if you look at the way people's careers go, they peak when they're 29-30 years old after they got five, six years of experience and that’s when they start clicking along. They can be an inconsistently fast driver but when they start nailing it every weekend, they got that much years of experience. Well, if I can get that at 23 instead of 29, then all that hard work is worth it.
NI: Matt Kenseth mentioned he was happy for your success and both of you have done well since changing teams -- and that you handled leaving the No. 20 car as well as anybody could have. How challenging was it those last couple of years at Joe Gibbs Racing?
LOGANO: It's tough because you obviously hear those rumors at the end of every year. It's like, here we go again, and that's a lot of stress for sure. You start going through all that garbage and it sucks. It's no fun. To be in the position I am now and have a great team behind me and have Roger [Penske] behind me, that's what you want. It's taken me years to get to this point. But I understand why they always talked about it; I wasn't running as good as I needed to run. There's a lot of reasons why, but to Matt's point, for it to work for both ends, that doesn't happen very often. Somebody's usually gonna get the shaft on the deal, right? We both won. It’s a win-win situation.