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Logano from out of work to Daytona champ
It wasn’t that long ago that freshly crowned Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano was out of a job.
He was hired at age 19 by Joe Gibbs Racing and given the nickname “Sliced Bread” which, if you believe what that means, he was to be the next great thing to hit NASCAR.
There were high expectations and he responded by winning a race in his first year. But after a total of four seasons, there was only one more win and the Gibbs organization set Logano loose in favor of veteran Matt Kenseth.
Logano’s road to his Daytona victory started when team owner Roger Penske decided to take a chance on him after his release from JGR.
Penske snatched him up before the 2013 season and the move jumpstarted Logano’s career. He made the field of four drivers in last year's championship finale after winning five races during the season – including last April’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway – and was in title contention until a poor pit stop late in the race foiled his chances.
While the team had to live with that disappointment during the off-season, he quickly made up for that and for his owner with Sunday’s historic victory. It was Logano's maiden visit to Victory Lane in NASCAR's showcase event, but it was just the second for Penske, who has a record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories.
"You don't understand how crazy this is,” Logano said. “To beat the guys we beat is crazy. And to have won this race at this place is crazy. I love Daytona, but man, I have always thought this is easily our worst racetrack."
Logano, now 24, reflected on the uncertainty he had about his future just a few years ago after losing his place with JGR.
''Some of the emotions you go through, you start to think, 'Man, am I going to have a job next year?' That's kind of hard as a race car driver,'' Logano said. ''I poured all my eggs in one basket. You don't know what's going to happen.
“I think it’s no secret that I probably got thrown into this series too young – inexperienced, didn’t know what I had to do," he said. "The emotions you go through when you start to think about if you will have a job next year – it is hard.
“Who would have ever guessed three years down the road (after being fired by Gibbs) that we would be Daytona 500 champions," Logano said. “That is just crazy. Life is a roller coaster and you have to roll with the punches.”
Penske, who last year won the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with Will Power and the owner’s championship in NASCAR's XFINITY Series, said he never hesitated in hiring Logano.
''It's paid off in spades for us,'' Penske said. ''This is just the start, I think, of a career. He's going to be a guy at the top for a long time.''
Logano also made some history as he placed his hands on the Harley J. Earl trophy, becoming the second-youngest winner in the history of the Daytona 500. The only one younger was Trevor Bayne, who was 20 when he pulled off his improbable victory in 2011.
If the Connecticut native plans on winning more Daytona 500s, he may want to work on his post-race celebrations.
''I don't know how to party,'' Logano said. ''When I first started racing, I wasn't 21, so milk and cookies was my partying. Now I'm old enough. Usually Brittany (his wife whom he married in December) and I sit down and re-watch the race.'