BRISTOL, Tenn — Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at the Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway will be a memorable one for more than one reason for Team Penske’s Joey Logano. The 32-year old Connecticut native will make his 500th career NASCAR Cup Series start. It’s a long way from 2009 when he entered his rookie season cocky and expecting great success.
13 years later he has 29 trips to victory lane. He said on Friday from Bristol that he came into the rookie season expecting way more but left that year worried he may not even have a job.
It was an eye opening experience in NASCAR’s top level. He was taking over a ride that future Tony Stewart left. Mark Martin dubbed him the greatest thing since sliced bread. The anticipation was high and success was already a given. Except that the success was few a far between in his early years.
Logano had just 1 win in his first 126 career starts. It wasn’t until the 15th race of the 2012 season that he finally went back. He had just 3 top 5’s in 2009. Then 7 more in 2010. He had just 4 in 2011.
That left Logano directly on the hot seat entering that pivotal 2012 season. In a ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, it doesn’t matter your age, they expect you to win right away. He wasn’t.
JGR had to turn their focus on finding a replacement for him if he couldn’t’ perform. He didn’t. While he did win in 2012, that was 50% of his top 5 finishes that season. So JGR had to let him walk.
2 wins, 16 top 5 finishes, 60 top 10’s, 5 poles and 337 laps led. That’s not good enough. It was time for a change of scenery for him. His career was at a fast cross roads. At just 23 years old, he was facing free agency already.
But that’s exactly what he needed. In just 1 year at Team Penske, he had led almost as many laps in 36 races (323) than he did in 4 seasons (337) at JGR.
Logano had 1 win, 11 top 5 finishes and 19 top 10’s in his first season in 2013 with Team Penske. A year later, he won 5 times, had 16 top 5 finishes and 22 top 10’s. He’d march all the way to the Championship 4 in the first season of this new format’s inception.
It gave him the confidence that he can perform at the highest level in the highest level of stock car racing. Gibbs brought him up too quickly and Penske gave him a lifeline when he needed it.
Now, 10 seasons in at Penske, Logano has 27 wins, 130 top 5 finishes, 193 top 10’s, 19 poles and 7,574 laps led in the No. 22 Ford. That’s a far cry from 4 seasons at JGR.
A win on Saturday night would give him No. 30 of his career in his 500th career start. It would also guarantee him a spot into the Round of 12 as he’s hoping to net his 5th trip to the final round and earn his 2nd career championship in the process.
He mentions he’s won some cool races before. The Daytona 500, the All-Star race, the LA Clash, Bristol Dirt and the inaugural race in Gateway. He’s even won this race in back-to-back years of 2014 and 2015. Can he pick up a 3rd on Saturday night?