Joey Logano finally broke on through in 2013, earning his first spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Now he has to prove he belongs as a Chase regular and perhaps take his performance up even more and seriously contend for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
In 2013, his first season with Penske Racing, Logano put together an impressive campaign with one race victory, two poles and 11 top-five finishes en route to an eighth-place finish in the final points standings.
Considering that he hadn’t even gotten close to a Chase berth in four largely disappointing seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing prior to the move to Penske, Logano has every right to feel optimistic. And given that he won’t turn 24 until May, Logano still has a huge upside.
Especially since Logano was the Penske driver who made the Chase last year, while teammate Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, became only the second driver in the Chase era to win the title one season and fail to qualify for NASCAR’s playoff round the next.
Keselowski had his breakthrough year in 2011, going from 25th in points to fifth and then the following year winning it all. Logano is hoping his career follows a similar trajectory.
If it does, he could be one of the four drivers who will square off for the championship in the season-ending race at Florida’s Homestead-Miami Speedway at the end of the season. Logano thinks he’s ready to take the next step.
"We’re looking for a year that we try to win this championship," said Logano. "I feel like we’re in position to do it. We’ve got the best owner in the business. We’ve got the best teammates in the business and the best crew chiefs, so we’re ready to go, and I can’t wait for Daytona."
Logano hopes a second year working with crew chief Todd Gordon, combined with minimal crew changes on the No. 22 Penske Ford, ought to translate to an even better 2014 season than he enjoyed last season. And he enjoyed last season an awful lot.
"It was one of those years you didn’t want it to end," said Logano. "You wanted to keep going and keep that ball rolling, but over this off-season that’s what we’ve been doing is keeping the momentum going and working on staying together. The continuity between myself and Todd Gordon and virtually all of the No. 22 team has stayed together. It’s the same guys and we’re able to build off of a lot."
Team owner Roger Penske likes the combination of youth and continuity in his organization, too. "With them (Logano and Keselowski) being on the team and already showing success, winning races, certainly, in 2013, gives us a lot of confidence as we go into ’14. And they’re working together. … I think we’re positioned quite well."
Logano also likes the NASCAR rule changes instituted for 2014, including the win-and-you’re-in (almost, anyway) Chase format, slight aero changes for the cars and knockout qualifying.
"I feel like the rules package is falling into my hands," said Logano. "It’s kind of turning into a Nationwide car more and more with the added downforce, added drag. … It’s turning into a Nationwide car, which I’ve been very successful in, so I think that’s playing into our hands."
Last year, the team excelled at the high-speed intermediate tracks, but Logano acknowledged it needs to get better at short tracks.
But the big challenge will be keeping the momentum going.
"It’s the same thing you also do," said Logano. "You look for a little bit in the bodies, look for a little bit in the chassis, look for a little bit in yourself, the team — anywhere you can possibly find it."
Sounds like the formula for another successful season.