A day after Joey Logano of Middletown, CT captured his second-career NASCAR Cup Series championship, it could be considered a knee-jerk reaction to state that the Team Penske driver has elevated his stock within the sport to the point of now being THE GUY who could go on a long-sustained run of dominance in the NASCAR Cup Series.
It could be considered a knee-jerk reaction, but I don’t think it is.
Logano is that good, and with each passing year, he continues to validate the lofty praise from those who propped his budding talent in his teenage years. The buzz surrounding Logano, when he moved to the NASCAR Cup Series, was intense.
“That’s the future of this sport,” NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin said about Logano back in 2007. “If you didn’t have to be 18 to drive in NASCAR, I’d put him in a car right now.”
You don’t often hear a driver from the old guard within the sport — especially these days — bring that kind of praise toward a driver that someday could take their job. But the praise from Martin was only the beginning for Logano, who was dubbed, “Sliced Bread,” as people joked that Logano was so good that he was the best thing since sliced bread.
As the legend of Sliced Bread grew, so too did the expectations, to the point where the NASCAR community as a whole began to think that the driver was potentially being overrated and that Logano could never meet the insane expectations that were being tossed at him.
Fast forward to the end of the 2012 season, as Logano was kicked to the curb by Joe Gibbs Racing, following a less-than-stellar four-year stretch to start his NASCAR Cup Series career, it looked like the expectations would never be met.
Through his first four full-time seasons in NASCAR Cup Series competition, Logano had recorded just two victories, which is honestly not bad for a driver in their opening few years in the sport. But when you’re a heralded blue-chip talent taking over for a departing legend like Tony Stewart, two wins in four seasons are not good enough.
This guy was supposed to be Sliced Bread, after all.
While the win total was paltry, Logano’s double-digit finishes in the year-end point standings were even more disappointing than his single-digit win total. Logano’s best points finish over his first four seasons was a 16th-place effort in a winless 2010 campaign.
Just as fast as Logano was brought to the NASCAR Cup Series level by Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, it appeared he was about to be gone. Then, Roger Penske stepped in and gave Logano a home with his No. 22 team.
The rest, as they say, is history.
The now 32-year-old Logano has recorded at least one win in all 10 of his seasons with Team Penske, which extends his streak to 11-straight NASCAR Cup Series seasons with at least one win, overall. This means that Logano’s current ‘consecutive seasons with a win’ streak is officially longer than a third of the time Logano has been on planet Earth.
Tack on that Logano, with his win in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway, has joined Kyle Busch as the only active two-time NASCAR Cup Series champions and it feels like Logano is on the cusp of a truly special run.
In fact, I feel Logano has all of the tools needed for a Jimmie Johnson in the 2000s-type stretch at his disposal.
Logano flat-out knows how to drive a race car, and when needed he can be as clean as anyone on the track.
And when the chips are on the table, as he showed Sunday at Phoenix and as he showed in 2018 as he defeated championship favorite Martin Truex Jr. for the championship, Logano can be absolutely perfect behind the wheel.
But intertwined with that near-flawless ability on track, Logano also has a mean streak when he straps that helmet on, as he showed at Darlington Raceway in the spring. Logano snagged his first points-paying victory of the year that day.
Logano felt he had been roughed up by William Byron for the lead earlier in the race. When Logano found himself in striking position in the closing laps, he delivered a shot to Byron’s rear bumper, which sent Byron into the outside wall.
Logano scorched his Goodyear Tires into Darlington’s asphalt that day, while Byron limped home to a 13th-place finish. Logano’s move infuriated Byron so much, that the normally clean-cut Byron was overheard saying, “He’s a piece of shit,” about Logano.
Despite Byron’s frustrations, Logano didn’t back down as he justified his move.
“I got fenced, I retaliated,” Logano explained. “I won the race. Like I said last week, that’s kind of how it works. I won’t get pushed around. In my book, we’re back to even. You reset and go again.”
Logano even challenged Byron to keep the feud going. Byron ultimately declined.
In retrospect, that afternoon at Darlington Raceway feels like a complete turning point in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Heading into that event, Byron was one of the hottest drivers on the circuit as he had recorded two wins and the driver of the No. 24 car sat third in the championship standings. Meanwhile, the winless Logano came into the day ninth in the standings.
After the demoralizing defeat handed to Byron, the Hendrick Motorsports driver went on a miserable stretch, where he recorded only one top-10 finish over his next 14 starts. While Byron would regain some momentum in the Playoffs, he never added another win to his 2022 total.
Logano, on the other hand, scored his second win of 2022 a couple of races later at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and he began to position himself for a Playoff push, where he ultimately won two more races and took home the Championship.
In addition to his skills behind the wheel, Logano has a lot more going for him to suggest he’s the guy going forward in the NASCAR Cup Series.
His ability to adapt is second to none. Logano has scored wins in the maiden trips to the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Race as well as the LA Memorial Coliseum. The ability to excel immediately at a new venue is extremely important, as NASCAR has shown a new dedication to not allowing their schedule to grow stale.
Additionally, Logano drives for one of the top organizations in the sport (Team Penske) and if that isn’t enough, he has solid sponsorship backing from loyal partners Shell Pennzoil, AAA Insurance, and Autotrader. Logano also has an incredible pit crew, as evidenced by their supreme performance on Sunday, while the other Championship 4 teams and pit crews faltered, down the stretch.
To cap it all off, Logano has one of the most skilled crew chiefs in the sport calling the shots for him. Paul Wolfe is a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, who has now scored championships with two different drivers — Logano and Brad Keselowski.
But what about the parity of the Next Gen car? Wouldn’t that stifle a potential Logano stranglehold on the sport?
Honestly, I don’t think so.
While a major talking point of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has been that the Next Gen car has seemingly evened the playing field, competition-wise, for teams — and it has certainly done that — the Championship 4 ended up looking a lot like what you’d expect in the pre-Next Gen era.
Sure, Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain rose to the occasion to make their first appearances inside the Championship 4 this season, but Bell drives for the powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing organization, so, that comes as no surprise at all.
As for Chastain, had it not been for his ‘Hail Melon’ move on the final lap at Martinsville, he would have missed out on making it to the final round of the Playoffs, and Denny Hamlin, another Joe Gibbs Racing driver and perennial Championship 4 contender, would have been in.
Yes, increasing parity is a thing. And yes, we had 19 different winners in 2022, a monumental number. And yes, this season marked the first time since 1960 that no driver eclipsed 1,000 laps led in the NASCAR Cup Series.
But at the end of the day, I would put my money on Logano to return to the big dance, not once, but many more times over the course of the remaining years of his driving career. And I have a hard time believing that Logano, by his sheer steely nerves in big-race situations, won’t convert some of those Championship 4 appearances into additional championships.
He’s just too good. And in my opinion, he is THE GUY.
Photo: NASCAR Media (We think… if not, please let us know and we’ll credit properly)