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Logano Might Be The Best Bet This Weekend
In a stacked Championship 4 field that includes the likes of accomplished drivers Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Joey Logano might not be considered the favorite in very many circles.
But maybe he should be.
No driver has won more races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the last three seasons than Logano, who earned his 14th such victory at Phoenix last Sunday. Now Logano gets a shot at his first Cup title in a winner-take-all race at Homestead this Sunday.
Logano’s car owner, Roger Penske, and the driver’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, are not surprised. They think Logano is underrated and perhaps the best in the business at what he does – especially under pressure.
“Joey is phenomenal about elevating (his performance),” Gordon said. “There are very few professional athletes who can elevate to that level when the pressure comes on, and Joey has done it time and time again. I think kudos to him.”
Penske added that he wasn’t surprised when Logano took off and separated himself from the rest of the field on the final restart at the end of the Phoenix race. The car owner credited his entire No. 22 team, but mostly heaped it on Logano.
“The team really was disciplined,” Penske said. “It executed the pit stops. I think you saw that almost at every stop we picked up two or three spots, and Joey's restarts were classic Logano. I mean, no one was able to be as cool as he was and take the positions (on restarts).”
It’s true that Logano does not have six championships like Johnson, who would tie NASCAR’s all-time record with a seventh if he can finish in front of the rest of the Championship 4 at Homestead.
It’s true that Logano isn’t the defending Sprint Cup champ like Kyle Busch.
And it’s true that he doesn’t have as many career race victories in NASCAR’s top series as Edwards, who owns 28.
But over the last three seasons, none of the other three in the Championship 4 – and in fact, no other driver in the series – owns more than the 14 Logano has now racked up. (Johnson is closest with 13, followed by Kevin Harvick with 12, Brad Keselowski with 11, Kyle Busch with 10, and both Edwards and Matt Kenseth with seven each).
Gordon admitted that he did not necessarily put a winning race car underneath Logano at Phoenix. He said his driver made it a winning car.
“We had a good car early in the race, probably adjusted our way out of it a little bit, but we had enough speed to kind of hang in the top five and put Joey where he could take advantage of things,” Gordon said. “Joey outperformed what we gave him, but we were definitely a top-five car and put ourselves in position to take it forward to Homestead.”
Penske added: “Logano showed how good he was the last few races, and to me, that makes a big difference, and I'm sure it does to Todd.”
Penske said Logano’s off-the-track habits as are excellent as the ones he displays behind the wheel, which also helps the overall team aspect as they chase a championship together.
And here’s the other thing: Logano is only 26 years old and probably hasn’t even reached his prime yet as a race-car driver. It just seems like he’s older at times because he began driving in Cup full-time at age 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing, where he earned just two victories along an often-difficult learning curve that lasted four years before Logano came over to Team Penske.
“I can tell you that he's a quality young man,” Penske said. “He motivates his team. I mean, he's there at the shop day in and day out, and there's never been a time we've asked him to do something on or off the track he hasn't done it with a smile.
“What he's been able to do from a driver perspective, there was quite a bit of noise around his driving style, but you look at how tight he's been running here the last year and a half or two years, he really pretty much stayed out of trouble. And I think he's earned a reputation in the garage area that you can race hard with him -- and to me, that's important.
“But more important, I think the person himself, he represents us in a first-class manner, and he can be with us a long time and working together with Brad (Keselowski).”
Penske reiterated what he has often said. That Keselowski, Logano’s teammate, had much to do with landing Logano when he came available following the 2012 season – and that he’s had much to do with helping Logano mature as a driver.
“I've got to give Brad a shoutout here because he's the one that said, ”˜Look, if we can get Logano, we've got to put our arms around him. And I think Brad had a lot to do with that,” Penske said. “But Joey has matured, and you have to say that if you go up and down the garage area, at his age, we've got a real winner.”
That gives Gordon confidence that his driver can bring home a title at Homestead.
“I love that we've got speed,” Gordon said. “I love that our pit crew has got confidence, and our race team has got confidence.
“On top of that, we've got a guy that's a closer. I think Joey elevates when pressure gets put on him. A lot of those things, you look at it, and it makes it very optimistic about what we can do at Homestead.”