Joey Logano hopes he’s seen the worst of his NASCAR career.
Right now, he’s enjoying the best.
The even better news? He’s only 24 years old.
Rushed into a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride with Joe Gibbs Racing at age 18, Logano saw limited success and his career nearly flamed out with barely an opportunity to take off.
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A second chance with Team Penske has turned into more of a second coming as Logano is one of five drivers this season with three victories with just two races remaining before the championship Chase begins.
His victory last weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway earned him an invitation to the “three-win club” with Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and his Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski.
Although still young, Logano’s NASCAR career has already involved a long journey to respect.
“My worst days over there (at JGR), you’d be down in the dumps and you lose your confidence as a driver and that’s probably the worst thing that can happen to you,” Logano explained. “Yeah, I was in that boat.
“There were times it was really, really hard. I would never think that I’d have a year like this at that time. You’ve got to have your head in the right spot.”
Logano entered NASCAR with high praise from veterans such as Mark Martin and came with a clever nickname to go with it – “Sliced Bread” (as in the best thing since).
While he quickly won races in the Nationwide Series and even picked up a fuel-mileage win in his rookie Cup season, consistent success in NASCAR’s premier series was difficult to come by.
With the struggles, of course, came the claims of being “overrated.”
As bad as it was, Logano said he wouldn’t trade the experience.
“I’m happy I went through all of that,” he said. “It’s made me what I am now and has made me aware of how I have to mentally be to win these races.
“There were a lot of good times over there, don’t get me wrong. The last year there I was able to win a race and that was probably the big moment that was able to get me this ride (with Penske).”
In his first season with Penske last year, Logano won one race and qualified for the Chase for the first time in his career.
With 12 races still remaining this season, Logano is already locked into the Chase with his wins – thanks to NASCAR’s new format – and now is in as good a position as anyone else to win his first championship.
Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president at Penske Corp., said the organization spent a lot of time in the offseason getting both Logano and Keselowski ready to contend for the series title.
“When Joey came on board with us, we told Joey there’s no No. 1 (driver), there’s no No. 2, everybody is equal,” Czarnecki said. “We all contribute.
“We all have the same access to information, the same access to resources, and I think it’s really demonstrated in the performance of the team with six wins (between Keselowski and Logano).”
Logano certainly has fully embraced that philosophy.
“Both Brad and myself understand that we need to work together to be able to run well,” he said. “We need to work very tight together to make it work.
“It’s our responsibility right now to make sure we race each other right, make sure we still share our information, because the moment we stop doing that and the moment we grow away from each other, we’re not going to be running first and second any more.
“We’re going to be racing for 15th and 16th. We don’t want that.”