It's been a long ride for Joey Logano, but it seems that he is finally one of the top-tier drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
It seems like a million years ago that we saw Logano strapping into his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and getting ready to compete in his first Daytona 500 and a certain victory in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year race. However, a snub-nosed Toyota and a 43rd in the 500 seem to set the pace for his rookie year and the next few seasons.
Logano drove for a championship-caliber team with Gibbs; there's no doubt about that. However, although NASCAR has been dominated by youth, it seemed that not only was Logano rushed to replace Tony Stewart in the No. 20, but his maturity level was much too low to handle being a part of such a top-notch organization that included Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs.
In his four seasons in the No. 20, Logano placed no higher than 16th in the points and won only twice. It was clear that he wasn't ready for the Sprint Cup. Had he spent an extra season in the Nationwide Series, he wouldn't have had too much of a problem. There's no doubt he could have claimed a championship, if not at least contended for one.
Yet nonetheless, he's with Penske Racing now and has become a contender.
Only in his second full season driving the No. 22 Ford Fusion, he's won twice. He placed eighth in the points last season, a position he currently fills right now. He's been fast and consistent this season, and although a 39th at Fontana and a 35th at Darlington has slowed him down, they haven't hidden the fact that Logano's Fords have been fast this season.
For starters, three front-row starts, including a pole at Las Vegas, have kept the driver formerly known as "Sliced Bread" near the front throughout the first eight races of 2014. Aside from his win at Texas, he has a trio of fourth-place finishes at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Martinsville.
Even though he placed in the Chase a year ago, Logano did suffer from early-season woes that left him as low as 20th in the points. This included crashes and engine failures, as well as Fords that just didn't make the grade. But although his issues at Darlington last weekend dropped him to eighth in the points, he had managed to get as high as fourth in the points, a far cry from how his season was going a year ago.
Although one win, four top-fives and four top-10s may not seem like much in eight starts, Logano has been fast this season. Part of it could be credited to experience, but one of the main things is that Penske has managed to bring their Ford program around full swing.
Both Logano and teammate Brad Keselowski have been at or near the front throughout the season. Add to that the fact that both drivers have scored early-season wins, and it goes to show that the Penske organization may have overtaken the winless Roush-Fenway group as the superior Ford team.
Logano is notoriously fast on the bigger ovals, having scored wins at Pocono and Michigan over the years, along with Texas. (His win at Loudon his rookie year won't be taken into consideration due to the circumstances surrounding it.)
With that being said, when paired with the premier Ford team in the Sprint Cup Series, Logano is set to possibly win multiple races this season and looks to be a strong contender for the title this season.
Logano has learned to keep out of trouble and focus on being consistent, a far cry from the days when a middle-of-the-pack finish was the norm and sparring with other drivers was par for the course. Logano has won multiple races with Penske and has made the Chase for the Sprint Cup one time already, so he has no excuse to miss out again.