As Joey Logano’s fortunes have gone at Texas Motor Speedway, so has his NASCAR career.
Both are now in the best position possible.
Logano – who finished 40th and seven laps down in his first Sprint Cup series race at Texas in 2008 – came full circle at the track as he held off Jeff Gordon in a two-lap overtime to claim an impressive victory in Monday’s rain-delayed Duck Commander 500.
In the nearly five years since his first appearance at the track with Joe Gibbs Racing as an 18-year-old upstart, much has changed for Logano, most importantly a realization of the potential many NASCAR veterans saw in him as kid growing up.
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“The first time I came here, I ran terrible. I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Logano, now 23. “You’re 18 years old with less than half a season of Nationwide under your belt. You get thrown into a tough situation, but I didn’t realize that at the time.
“Completely different situation now. I kind of walk in the doors of Team Penske the first time and said, ‘Here is who I want to be, here is what I want to do, here is how I feel like we can win races and do it together.’ ”
As it turns out, Logano knew what he was talking about.
He won a race last season and qualified for the first time for the Chase in his first year with Team Penske. Now seven races into this season, his victory all-but ensures both he and his teammate, Brad Keselowski, will be challenging for this season’s title as well.
It’s a startling turn of events for the driver dubbed “Sliced Bread” – as in “The best thing since …,” who was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 and then by the same organization at the end of 2012 with two victories in 147 Cup starts.
Even with his maturity, Logano is not too old to enjoy the perks of a victory at Texas.
“It’s a pretty cool place to win,” he said. “I got a ring, guns, a trophy, a hat, a duck call. That’s pretty cool.”
The victory is the fourth of his Cup career, and he is now fourth in the series standings, 24 points behind Gordon, the leader.
As Monday’s race drew to a close, Logano appeared to have the win well in hand, as he held at one point a three-second lead over his nearest competition.
Just before Logano took the white flag to signify the start of the final lap, Kurt Busch slammed the wall on the exit of Turn 2. Busch’s car drifted off the track but NASCAR threw a caution for debris.
That threw Logano’s win in doubt as all of the lead-lap cars pitted one final time. Gordon and Brian Vickers were the first two drivers off pit road, as they took only two new tires. Logano came off third, the first car with four new tires.
As the race headed into the two-lap overtime, Gordon was able to hold off Logano much of the first lap but not the second.
“I got a pretty good restart, so I was happy about that. Got through (Turns) 1 and 2. I was shocked I was leading off of (Turn) two, to be honest, Gordon said.
“I wish I would have run a little bit higher down in (Turns) 3 and 4. I’m sure Joey was going to go wherever I didn’t.”
He did and on Monday, it was Victory Lane.
“Obviously these wins are so important this year to get into the Chase. To have both Team Penske cars with a win already, both of us up there in points, we feel good about that,” Logano said.
“You can kind of start getting your ducks in a row for Chase time, making sure you get everything ready for then.”
Kyle Busch finished third, Vickers was fourth and rookie Kyle Larson was fifth. Gordon holds a four-point lead over Matt Kenseth in the series standings.
“I think Joey learned a lot over the years at JGR and never felt quite comfortable there for whatever reason,” Kyle Busch said. “He sure found a home at Penske. Those guys are really good over there.”