Maybe Joey Logano really is the best thing to come along since sliced bread.
Logano added to a win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7 with a victory at Richmond International Raceway last Saturday night. In between, Logano was good enough to lead for 37 laps at Darlington Raceway before being sidelined by a front-hub failure.
To put Logano’s two-win April into perspective, consider that he had two wins in 147 starts with Joe Gibbs Racing from 2008-12.
This is what many envisioned when Logano moved into a full-time Cup ride at age 19 with JGR in 2009, picking up the nickname “Sliced Bread.” The nickname turned into a burden, usually said with a sneer, as Logano struggled to deal with expectations.
“You get thrown into a tough situation,” said Logano, now 23. “But I didn’t realize that at the time.
“Over the years, I’ve been able to home in on who I am as a driver, who I am as a person. When you’re 19 years old, you’ve got to grow up. You’re not quite done growing up at that point. I may not be now. I feel like I’m getting closer.”
Logano jumped to Team Penske for the 2013 season. It has turned into a career-changing move.
“Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR and never felt quite comfortable there for whatever reason,” said Kyle Busch, a former teammate with Gibbs’ operation. “Sure found a home at Penske.”
Everything about the Penske operation has been a good fit for Logano.
He works well with teammate Brad Keselowski and found a rapport with crew chief Todd Gordon. Penske has given him speed, lots of speed, in the No. 22 Ford. Both Logano and Keselowski, in the No. 2, have been quick all season. It will take something truly bizarre to keep both out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The reception has been different, too.
Logano was viewed with some skepticism when he arrived in Gibbs’ Cup operation. Why not? A 19-year-old kid given a Cup seat on the strength of a half-season at the Nationwide level and three Cup starts?
Logano was more of a known commodity when he switched to Penske. He was no longer a privileged kid. He was a racer.
“Completely different situation now,” Logano said. “I’ve been able to take advantage of that, walk in the doors of Penske the first time and say, ‘Here is who I want to be. Here is what I want to do. Here is how we can win races, do it together.’”
During the JGR years, Logano ran well at the Nationwide level — nine wins in 2012 alone — but struggled with his confidence in Cup races. He tended to lay back and follow the lead of others, which is no way to have success at the Cup level.
With Penske, Logano has been far more aggressive. Some of that is the result of Gordon’s handling. Some of that is Logano picking up confidence as he has gone along with the new team. Qualifying for the Chase last season elevated Logano.
“I knew I needed to have the same attitude I had in Nationwide, that same relationship and confidence on the Cup side for me to run well,” Logano said. “We’ve been able to do that. You see the results.
“I’m here to win. I feel like competitors see that now. They don’t look at you as a guy that’s going to run up [front] every 10 races now. It’s every week now.”
No one snickers about “Sliced Bread” this season.