By selecting Joey Logano to drive the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford in 2013, team owner Roger Penske will not have to deal with the drama of a champion. Nor will he have to contend with the insecurities of a driver who has yet to taste victory in stock car competition or a racer who is far from being a weekly contender.
Sure, Logano is far from ready to compete for the Sprint Cup championship, but give him time.
“He was the right guy for us,” said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric.
And in an organization historically known for not having a one-team concept, Logano received the blessing of Brad Keselowski. It was actually Penske’s alpha driver who recommended Logano pursue the ride.
“He played a very big role in getting me in here and getting me a meeting with Roger,” Logano said. “And that means a lot to have a teammate that really wants you there, that you can work together with and he’s been doing a great job.
"To come in here and see what he’s been doing and try to learn from him and, hopefully, we can learn from each other and make each other better race car drivers and make our teams the best we can.”
The opportunity to have both teams on the same page should enable certain walls to come down that have existed since the company expanded to two cars in 2000. The new partnership with Keselowski and Logano has the potential to strengthen Penske Racing as it transitions back into Ford and acclimates to the new 2013 cars.
“Brad had come to us last year and mentioned Joey’s name,” Cindric said. “He felt as though he was certainly someone he could work with and work well with. That chemistry is so important to not only have the crew chiefs and the guys that can work together but also have the drivers that can communicate off the track.
“They need to help the team move forward together rather than force the other people internally to pick a side. It needs to be Penske Racing. And once they get on the racetrack, they can sort out who wins the race. But that’s a big positive to this situation is the relationship that those two have developed.”
Logano is also keenly aware of the responsibility he’ll have to rebuild the No. 22 team and its relationship with the sponsor.
“I think working with the 22 team and bringing some stability there with Shell/Pennzoil is a great opportunity for me to go out there and win some races and try to win the championship," Logano said.
Although Logano was rushed into NASCAR’s top tour four seasons ago, the 22-year-old has exhibited flashes of potential.
Under the direction of veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, Logano won a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire in his 20th career Cup start. Although he didn’t win in his sophomore season on the tour, Logano doubled his top-five and top 10 finishes and finished a career-high 16th in the point standings.
During the third year, however, it was clear that Zipadelli was looking for an out. Although Logano had improved in laps led in each of the first three years, a rash of three failed engines relegated the driver — and Home Depot — to a historically substandard finish of 24th at season’s end.
Zipadelli’s departure at the end of 2012 to join his former driver Tony Stewart offered Logano the opportunity to work with Jason Ratcliff — a crew chief Kyle Busch says he would love to have calling the shots on the No. 18 if he “didn’t have Dave Rogers.” Together, Logano’s progress appeared to blossom again. Fourteen races into their partnership, the team won at Pocono from the pole.
But Logano has yet to establish the necessary consistency to be a serious contender for the Chase. Still, current team owner Joe Gibbs tried in earnest to retain Logano in some fashion. The timing simply didn’t work out.
“We tried a number of things trying to get it to work, so that we could keep all four (drivers), and nothing clicked,” Gibbs said. “I think at the end there, we still had a package there, but when you took our package, and he had a chance to have other opportunities, he felt like one of those was better than what we had.
“There’s no question that he’s a Cup driver, and he’s passionate about that. One of the things we were trying was four (Cup) cars. We tried a little bit of everything. Originally, that’s what we were after was to keep him driving Cup, but it just didn’t work out for us.”
Still, during the past four years there have been lessons learned by Logano. He has had to add leadership skills to his repertoire. He has had to fight through the rumors of being dumped for other drivers or whispers of his inability to step up to the level of his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Busch and Denny Hamlin. And he had to gain the self-assurance and skill to separate him from the mid-pack drivers and move to the next level.
“I’ve become pretty tough over the last few years,” Logano said. “I’ve been dealt a couple of tough hands. You hear the rumors, and most of the rumors are probably true. You definitely learn how to be tough, how to stay confident.
“At first, that was very difficult for me because I didn’t know how to do that. I had some help with that and surrounded myself with a lot of good people to be able to deal with that and dig yourself out of a hole. I felt like we were able to do that throughout this year.”
For Penske Racing and Cindric, who acknowledged Logano’s “character is proven,” he shouldn’t have to worry about meltdowns with the media captured on video or partying until the wee hours of the morning with his newest driver. Cindric compared Logano’s personality to current racer Sam Hornish, “who represents the brand and Penske Racing very well.” And with the challenge Cindric has of “righting” the No. 22 program, a pleasant yet milquetoast personality should serve the sponsor well particularly playing off of Keselowski’s more outspoken role.
Still, after Logano’s experience with Busch and Hamlin, there won’t be nearly the pressure of dealing with a sole teammate. Over time, it will be curious to observe the relationship between the teammates as Logano becomes more assertive on and off the track.
“I work very hard and expect a lot out of myself,” Logano said. “I don’t think I accomplish everything I always want to because I’m shooting at the moon. If you shoot for a top-10 finish, all you’re going to get is a top-10 finish. You have to shoot for wins. You always want more. They may call me greedy, but I think that’s just the competitiveness in me to always want to be better.
“I started at the Cup Series at a very young age, with very, very little experience, not knowing what I was getting myself into. I learned a lot. I’m at the point now in my career that I know what it takes in my career to go out there and do it. I feel like this gives me a fresh start to come here at Penske with Shell/Pennzoil and try to put everything I learned to the best use I know how to and do the best I can.”
And a “fresh start” away from Joe Gibbs Racing could be just what Logano needs to move out of the shadows and establish his own light.