By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two floors down from the red carpet that would serve as the staging area for Team Penske’s 50th anniversary gala at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, defending Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano fielded questions from reporters.
There were two thrusts to the conversation: a promising 2015 season that ended badly and a 2016 campaign that holds great promise for Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
For practical purposes, Logano’s run at a possible first championship came to a brutal end last year when Matt Kenseth pile-drove the No. 22 into the Turn 1 wall at Martinsville — retaliation for an incident two weeks earlier at Kansas, where Logano turned Kenseth, the race leader, with five laps left and prevented the veteran Joe Gibbs Racing driver from advancing in the Chase.
Logano won six races and six poles in 2015, both series bests. In addition to the coveted Daytona 500, he won the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol for the second straight year. Logano swept all three races in the Chase’s Round of 12, at Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega, before Kenseth waylaid him at Martinsville.
A year earlier, Logano had advanced to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway before a pit road mistake relegated him to a fourth-place finish in the final standings.
But even with the issues, the last two years have convinced the 25-year-old driver that he and his team should be perennial contenders, perhaps even one of the favorites for the title.
“Most wins, most poles, 22 top fives — those are championship stats,” Logano said on Wednesday during the Team Penske stop on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. “We don’t have the trophy, but we know how to do it. We know how to do this now. It’s not going to be a fluke when it happens.”
Logano’s teammate, Brad Keselowski, already has a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship on his resume. Logano feels his team has the wherewithal to deliver a second series title to team owner Roger Penske.
“We don’t need to change what we’re doing,” Logano said. “(Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) and I talk about this a lot. What we’re doing has been successful. We haven’t reinvented the wheel since we started working together. We just kept making it a little better and refining it a little bit, smoothing out this area and smoothing out that area, and before you know it, you’ve got a pretty good wheel.
“So we’re pretty close to being where we want to be. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in the last three years and how we keep improving. I just want to make sure that keeps going, and it’s going to be a challenge. To make the numbers better than they were last year is going to be very tough, but it’s something I look forward to trying to do.”
Team Penske’s 50th anniversary party celebrates 28 series championships in various forms of motorsports.
When No. 51 rolls around next year, Logano may just have another to add to the stockpile. And if that happens, continuity will have a lot to do with it. At Team Penske, there is very little turnover of personnel.
“Paul Wolfe and Brad came up through the XFINITY series and also Todd and Joey, being able to bring those guys along is a huge difference,” Penske said. “With that process, we have built teams around these great drivers and crew chiefs, and that is key going into 2016. Most of the people we have are home grown…
“We build our cars all the same. The only way you know which car it is when they put the decals on it. It’s like a 7-iron – everyone holds it a little differently. The setup they put on the car might be a little different, but at the end of the day it’s the results, and we can look and see why someone is fast and see the differences.
“I take my hat off to Paul and Todd for what they have been able to do working together. You see the speed we had in 2015 and 2014, and I think we will carry on where we left off at the end of the season.”
Image: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images