Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Surprising Rise Of Joey Logano

In the 2009 Toyota All-Star Showdown Joey Logano, a development driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, took out the leader of the race, and the sheer absurdity of his racing seemed to indicate he was going to be another of those drivers who would go nowhere in his career.

Six years later, the resurgence of Joey Logano has become one of the budding epics of NASCAR.

It certainly didn't start that way.   The Middletown, CT native's family moved to Georgia when he was a youth and he became an ace in Bandolero cars and Legends cars, to where by the age of fifteen he was plugged as "the real deal" by NASCAR star Mark Martin.   He was called "the greatest thing since sliced bread" by Randy LaJoie, the two-time Busch series champ.

When he won at Kentucky at eighteen, it appeared the sliced bread moniker would stick.   He won in ARCA racing in the 2008 Carolina 500 and by the end of that year was driving for JGR in Winston Cup, being groomed as successor to Tony Stewart.   He drove several late-season races for JGR, but it was here that the first hint of struggle showed with dismal efforts, which wound up carrying over into his first full season, 2009.   He finished no better than 30th in his first three races and despite winning the rain-shortened New England 300 and Rookie of the Year, his efforts in a barren rookie field were uninspiring.

The remainder of his career with Joe Gibbs was likewise forgettable, lowlighted by a petulant pit confrontation and generally subpar efforts - he was doing less with more, and though he pulled off a surprisingly strong win at Pocono in 2012, by then it was basically too late.   Gibbs gave up on Logano and signed ex-Roush ace Matt Kenseth for his #20.

Logano was signed by Penske Racing, reportedly at the behest of the team's top driver Brad Keselowski.   Logano's Penske career began with a controversial bang in two ugly set-tos with former JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, one at Bristol and a far more severe confrontation at Fontana where Hamlin got stormed into an inside wall and was seriously injured; it led to a postrace fracas between Logano and Tony Stewart (the result of an earlier on-track showdown that day).

And yet in spite of all that the season turned into the best of his career with a win at the Yankee 400 at Michigan and an 8th in final points.   And the career rebound was just starting,  for in 2014 Logano erupted to five wins, a career-high 993 laps led, and fourth in points.   And along the way he usurped teammate Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champ, as top dog at Penske Racing.

No one could have seen any of that coming after his pathetic beginning at the Cup level with Gibbs anymore than they could have seen him shooting down the Hendrick juggernaut to win in one of the wildest Daytona 500 finishes ever.   Sliced bread?   Joey Logano is the full loaf of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches right now.

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