Logano’s journey to a 2-time Cup Series champion a path of redemption

AVONDALE, AZ — You’ve done it Joey Logano. The boy from Connecticut is one of just two humans on the entire existence of this great planet of ours to have won multiple NASCAR Cup Series championships. On an eloquent Sunday afternoon in the Arizona desert, Logano never left any doubt to whether he’d become 1 of 17 drivers to accomplish this feat as he led 185 of 312 laps in a dominating display of greatness.

“Yeah, it’s neat to think about where I came from, at Silver City Quarter Midget Club in Meriden, Connecticut, getting to go up there earlier this year, they have the Grands there, and to see all the kids there and just the memories come rushing back of everything that was there and the fun that it was,” Logano said after also scoring his 31st career win in the process. “Racing with your — I was out there with my dad and just having a good time.

“There’s just nothing like it. You probably don’t appreciate it enough when you’re a kid.

“I always try to tell the kids that you should never take for granted the moment that you get to drive a car at its absolute limit because you don’t know how long you get to do that, and it’s special.

“I always tell the parents that make sure it’s fun at that level because that’s what it’s about. It’s about having fun and competing as a kid. You don’t have to add all the pressure and make it a job.

“That’s one thing I always think about kids racing these days, if you take it too serious, you’re going to have your whole life to make it serious. At this level it’s a job, and the only thing that’s fun is when you win, and that’s what it is.

“So there’s nothing like those moments and the dreams that you have, right? This was my dream. I’m sitting here living my dream. How awesome is that. You think about it, I wanted to be a Cup champion, and sounded kind of funny when I went to school in Connecticut and no one else raced in class, and it was just me. And I brought trophies to show-and-tell, and they’re like, What the heck are you doing? Quarter Midget, what the heck does that even mean?

“I had that dream. Maybe I was the odd one in the class, but this was it. I loved cars. I loved racing and I loved winning.

“I just kept chasing my dream with all the great people around me, teaching me and learning lessons and a lot of commitment from my family, and look at us now. Kinda neat.”

Neat it was. However, with what started off easy for Logano, turned a stark contrast from where he is now, to where he was prior.

Joey Logano celebrates in front of the fans on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix

Logano was fast tracked to a Cup ride. It was honestly one that saw him rise too rapidly. He won early and often which led him to being dubbed the “greatest thing since sliced bread.” The anticipation of his arrival was huge. This was the next driver to transcend the sport the way of Petty, Yarborough, Waltrip, Gordon and Earnhardt. Logano was a sure fire hit.

Until he wasn’t.

He was barely able to vote, let alone still three years shy of being able to legally have an adult beverage when he was whisked up to make his Cup Series debut in a three race deal for 2008. At his age of his debut, most 18-year-olds are gearing up for their first year of college.

Not Logano.

He was shifting gears in a professional sport with those double his age. This was a grown mans game and this kid was already coming in with massive expectations.

A year later, he was already a full-time Cup driver and taking over the reins for a future Hall of Famer. It was too much pressure. Too much expectations. Too much on this 19-year-olds shoulders to truly handle.

It was setup for failure from the get-go.

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 31 wins, 132 top 5 finishes, 196 top 10’s, 20 poles and 7,648 laps led in the No. 22 Ford. That’s a far cry from 4 seasons at JGR.

“Well, I think he came with us, what, 10 years ago. It’s hard to believe that. There was a lot of discussion was that the right move,” Roger Penske said after Logano won the championship on Sunday in Phoenix. “I have to thank Brad (Keselowski) who talked to me about Joey and really made the opportunity for me to meet with him.

“He’s come on, you’ve seen his success. The number of races he’s won for us has been amazing.

“He really — I said to him at the beginning of the year, with Brad leaving and he being the senior guy, to really put his arms around the whole team.

“And I think we’re a lot more transparent as a group. They certainly worked together coming here this weekend. You could see all the cars were very competitive, and that’s because they all went on the same step, and they had a practice to see what was best, and we loaded that on the cars.

“I think he’s been a big advocate for that. And then not just what he’s doing on the track; our relationship with Shell-Pennzoil couldn’t be better, and it’s because of the job that he’s done and what he does off the track.

“And then he and Brittany, from a philanthropy standpoint, I see another part of Joey you don’t see when he puts his helmet on. But once he puts that helmet on, you want to be sure he’s on your team.”

His crew chief, Paul Wolfe, agreed.

“That’s a lot of what I saw out of Joey and his teammates when he joined us at Team Penske was that drive he had and the effort he put in over the years,” he said. “You always know what you’re going to get with him, and that’s 100 percent focus and doing the best he’s capable of.

“Those are the kind of people you want to work with. You never doubt his work ethic and what he’s putting into being the best he can be. That’s what makes you want to — motivates you to work hard.

“I knew he was capable of winning this race and championship today, and just didn’t want to let him down. We’ve got a great group of guys on our team and supporting us, and we were able to give him what he needed to do his job, and then we got the results we deserved.”

That was one part redemption. The second was a redemption moment for Phoenix in general. Logano held onto a grudge for how the 2020 championship race finished. He had a car to beat that day too. He exited pit road for the final time in the lead. Then his handle went away and he faded to third.

The title that got out of his grasps. Logano had that moment etched into this brain and he wasn’t going to let go of it until he made up for it.

Redemption is all he talked about since his Vegas win in the Round of 8 opener. He knew he was going to be here in this moment with a fifth shot at a championship. He was 1-for-4 prior but truly felt he should have been batting .500 instead.

“Even 2020 we made the Championship 4; and like I said, I always feel like that race was the one that got robbed from us,” he said. “We were in position to do everything correctly, and something not of our own doing cost us the win.”

Sunday, he left little doubt. He was never passed by another Championship 4 driver all day. He made his statement on Saturday in earning the pole and a day later, was untouchable.

9 of his 10 seasons at Penske have now seen him finish in the top 8 in points. Penske has won 3 Cup titles, 2 of which coming from Logano.

At just 32 years old, he still has at least a decade to up these stats even further. There’s going to be more of these moments for Logano and in an era of parity, to have this much success already, maybe we will think of his name like we did the greats before.

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