When Mark Martin first spoke of Joey Logano in 2005, the racing world was put on alert. Logano, who was 15 at the time, had already gained several accolades in racing. It was only natural that Joe Gibbs proceeded to sign him.
Logano responded by winning the 2007 Camping World East title. Logano's rising star was furthered when he made his Nationwide debut at Dover in June of 2008, where he finished sixth. He proceeded to win the pole for the next two races, crashing in the first but winning the second in just his third series start.
He proceeded to post consistent finishes throughout the course of the year. It went without saying that he was the heir apparent to the No. 20 Home Depot ride that Tony Stewart was to vacate at the end of 2008. In his first race for the team, he proceeded to flatten the front-end of the orange Toyota in a vicious hit and finished last in his first race with the new team.
Was that a harbinger for things to come?
Logano, who is 22, has two wins, one by virtue of rain during a race that otherwise served to be characteristic of his rookie season, a handful of top-fives and top-10s and five poles. In other words, not the results of a kid who was poised to eclipse Jeff Gordon’s career on paper. So, when he was tabbed to take over the wheel of the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion at Penske, many were left wondering: What does this accomplish?
Penske is a motorsports powerhouse who only recently claimed NASCAR’s pinnacle, the Sprint Cup Championship. He has dominated other forms of motorsport such as IndyCar and Trans-Am, so the organization is no stranger to success. Young Logano, who has a wellspring of talent (see dominance of 2012 Nationwide Series), would serve to benefit from the experience of having Roger Penske as a boss and Brad Keselowski as a teammate.
However, Logano is being placed with an unproven team in the No. 22. That may sound strange, but 2012 was dismal for the team. Granted, Kurt Busch pulled off a couple of wins in 2011 on two very different, very difficult tracks, but he finished 11th in the season standings before being shown the door by Roger Penske.
When 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth was tabbed to take over the No. 20 at Gibbs, Joe Gibbs himself was adamant that he intended to keep Logano within the organization either on a part-time basis or as a full-time Nationwide driver. One may wonder if it was a matter of pride, but Logano chose to search for other options.
The Nationwide Series is a great series to hone the skills of drivers both young and old. Cagey veterans like Elliott Sadler are using the series to rejuvenate their careers, while youngsters like Kyle Larson use it as a stepping stone to possible greatness.
Given Logano’s dominance of the series, it would have only made sense for him to add to his already full trophy case by dominating the 2013 Nationwide Season in a Gibbs Toyota like he has been doing. Logano’s career, although young, is in dire need of rejuvenation, and it would have been a wise decision to go that route. It is understandable that part-time route would have felt too much like a demotion. Having your hotshot racing career being demoted from big time to AAA isn’t exactly something driven individuals would want out in the open.
Logano is a driven individual, though. His 2012 win at Pocono was sheer mastery. The way he overcame Mark Martin near the end of the race wasn’t typical Logano, hungry but not ferocious. No, that day, Logano tore apart the tricky triangle like a big steak dinner and Martin like he was the dessert afterwards. That was the Logano that needs to be showcased more.
The 2013 season will be big in young Joey Logano’s career, as it will be a make-or-break year. The decisions have been made and the die has been cast. Whether he continues to be lax behind the wheel or the shot in the arm that the No. 22 team needs, time will tell.