By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s 61st annual running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 10
Career Wins: 21
Biggest Accomplishment: 2018 Cup Series Champion
Still relatively young at the tender age of 28, Joey Logano went from being a possible NASCAR bust in 2012, to what everyone felt he was capable of doing when he was a teenager a decade ago, becoming the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Whether the fans cheer or boo him, Logano has its large share of critics, and when he entered year No. 6 at Team Penske, he had to prove his worth after a disappointing 2017 season, highlighted by encumbered Richmond win and poor runs which kept him out of the playoffs.
This past season, it was quite the opposite and indeed showed his worth when no one really expected him to. As the”Big Three” kept racking up wins, Logano remained one of the strongest competitors in the regular season. Scoring consistent top-fives and top-10s throughout, but his championship run began when he scored the victory at Talladega in April.
As the playoffs came closer, Logano had some hiccups along the way including getting caught up in the Big One at Daytona and his first last-place result since the 2009 Daytona 500 at Watkins Glen. But that didn’t altered his momentum as he kept being productive and once the playoffs finally arrived, that’s when Logano made his statement that not only he’s best of the rest, but a legitimate threat of dethroning the “Big Three.”
This statement reached its boiling point in the closing laps at the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville, where he and “Big Three” driver Martin Truex, Jr. put on an incredible show and coming into Turn 3, Logano used his No. 22 Pennzoil Ford to bump the 2017 champion out of the way and locked himself into the Championship 4.
While Truex voiced his displeasure in front of a jeering crowd, the Middletown, Connecticut native set his eyes on a championship at Homestead. It turned out that Logano was the only one who could stop the “Big Three,” and he did that with 12 laps to go when he got by none other than Truex to score his third win of 2018. Even sweeter, giving Roger Penske’s second Cup title to cap off a season where he finished with 13 top-fives and 26 top-10 finishes.
Everyone around the garage, including his No. 22 team, has seen an evolving and matured Logano, which he said after capturing his first championship that he knew he had to be a contender to prove himself to Penske and crew chief Todd Gordon that belonged in the sport. Due in most part after getting an advice from his dad, Tom Logano, that being surrounded by smart people can produce positive results, and intends of continuing with that approach.
“Quite a few years ago, I knew being with someone like that, you can’t lose because he’s a winner, and you want to surround yourself with winners all the way through,” said Logano. “Some of the best advice my dad has taught me is to surround yourself with people smarter than you. That’s pretty easy for me, actually.
“I don’t want to be the smartest one here, but I sure look it when I have the right people around me, and that’s not just my race team, that’s my family all the way through. There’s a lot of support that goes back and forth and a lot of things behind the scenes that not everybody here gets to know about or to see in preparation for this because this isn’t something that I take lightly going into a race weekend. There’s a lot that I study and look into, and there’s a lot that everybody is — each individual on our race team goes through to prepare, and they’ve got to have a support group, as well. We talk about my family a lot, but this is a long, grueling season. You guys know. You guys come to most every race, most of you do.”
Now entering his 11th Cup season and his sixth at Penske, Logano also reflected how his career went from just scoring two wins in four full seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, to now an additional 19, that includes a 2015 Daytona 500 victory, and running at his peak in the sport’s highest level.
“As the kid growing up, I was an aggressive racer, and I was able to win a lot of races. I got humbled pretty quick. I guess humbled is the word. I don’t know, I got beat up,” Logano stated. “I got pushed around a lot. I wasn’t fast. I didn’t have no respect. I think that beats up on your confidence pretty quickly, and you have to kind of dig back inside and — every sport is a mental sport, so you have to really figure out how to be strong again and dig out of holes.
“I said it after the race in one of the interviews, but the opportunity to make mistakes is one of the best things that can ever happen to you. I made a lot of mistakes, a lot of mistakes in front of all of you, things I shouldn’t say or whatever it was, but there’s no regrets, either, because that’s formed me into the man I am today, and if it wasn’t for each and every one of those mistakes, I wouldn’t be sitting here today, and I wouldn’t have the people around me, either, that have surrounded me.
“God teaches you many lessons, sometimes the hard way, but I wouldn’t take any of them back. Even if we didn’t win today, I wouldn’t.”