AVONDALE, Ariz. – When Joey Logano was informed about being the oldest of this year’s Championship 4 field during Thursday’s media availability, he offered an understandable response.
“Yeah, I knew it was. It’s interesting ’cause, like, I’m not that much older than Ross (Chastain). Ross is only a year younger than me,” he said before being corrected on his age difference with Chastain. “A few years younger than me, OK.”
If there is someone who can remind the current field of competitors, press and fans about time’s finite ways, Logano, once the brash, raw but talented youngster in 2009, is now a seasoned veteran – at age 32.
Logano has evolved from an outspoken, aggressive upcoming talent who succeeded Tony Stewart via Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 ride from 2009 to 2012 to his perennial contending ways with Team Penske’s No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang since 2013.
Like many veterans and icons of the series, Logano has worked with different crew chiefs throughout his career. Following the Team Penske crew chief shuffle effective for the 2020 season, the Middletown, Connecticut native has gelled with Paul Wolfe.
Hungry Like a Wolfe
Certainly, Logano and Wolfe know how to win a championship as evident with their respective titles in 2018 and 2012, the latter doing so with Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team.
The focus is usually on the star of a team sport, like quarterbacks in football, forwards in basketball and hockey and a cleanup hitter or fireballing pitcher in baseball.
That said, Logano wanted to make it clear that it is truly a team sport in NASCAR, particularly with who was the true leader of his No. 22 brigade.
“I think it’s great,” he remarked. “Paul and the whole team is different. It’s not just Todd (Gordon) and Paul. It’s Todd’s team and Paul’s team.”
Perhaps the most impressive caveat with Logano and his No. 22 team’s latest championship efforts is their resiliency and ability to adapt to Wolfe’s leadership after working with Gordon.
“They do things completely different,” he observed. “They’re not very alike really in any way. Not in a good or bad way either. They just lead their team in a different way. They make decisions in a different way.”
Logano acknowledges that he serves as the de facto face of the No. 22 team. However, as with any quality leader, it is about working together with a team to maximize on each occasion.
“It took me a little bit to just kind of understand where I place, as the leader of the team, how can I help Paul do his job, how can he help me do my job?” he shared. “Then how that is handled all the way through the whole team, right? Where is my strength, where is his strength? But more importantly where is his weakness and my weakness? How can we help each other?”
That is not to say it is always smooth sailing for the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series champion. Intensity goes beyond the driver’s seat, as Logano mused.
“It’s the same as any marriage that you’re part of, right?” he added. “You have to have two people that are willing to be better all the time. Same with a crew chief and driver, you have to be willing to call each other out when things aren’t right and be willing to change together. That’s what it is.”
The Great Year of Change
Like most of the competition this season, Logano and his No. 22 team have contended with the great year of change’s biggest intangible – the Next Gen stock car.
“I’ve been saying it all year, it washes away a lot of the advantage that the experienced guys have had over the past,” he said. “You think of the old car, we knew which way it’s going to go in the race, how restarts go, just managing the race itself, all those things. We’ve had years and years of experience on that.”
Combine the Next Gen car with the emerging young talents, new teams and smaller margin for error with stages and four Playoff rounds. Even a veteran like Logano acknowledges how the notebook had to be revised, mentally and physically.
“Experience is still rewarded in a lot of things, especially on a weekend like this,” he shared. “There’s still a reward there. But, I mean, at the end of the year I had to unlearn a lot. If you’re going to be a rookie, this is the year to be a rookie because we’re all starting at zero for the most part.”
Fortunately, for Logano, he and his crewmates did not have to reinvent the wheel. Instead, it was about refining the approach and years of learned behaviors to maintain and elevate the perennial title contender status.
“I knew how the sport is run, the ins-and-outs, that type of thing, that experience is still there,” Logano quipped. “But the actual on-track racing was, like, start all over ’cause what happened in the past, the things that I was so certain was going to happen, it went the opposite.”
There’s a T in Team and Title
A surefire sign of Logano’s evolution is his response toward being asked about his legacy or icon status in NASCAR competition.
Though he is not likely to make a memorable soundbite as he did in 2010 after an incident with Kevin Harvick at Pocono, he will be the first to admit that it is about the present, not the past or future about who he was and will be as a driver.
“I’ve never thought of it that deeply if I’m being honest with you. I might be living right at the hood pins at this moment when it comes to looking at legacies, what those things mean and all that,” Logano said.
Along the same lines, Logano is still writing the chapters to his prolific book as a Cup competitor. In his 15th year of Cup racing, he wanted to make it clear to pump the brakes about perceiving him in a reflective manner.
“I’m in the race still, right? I’m still going. I can’t say I can look back at that and say that I’m not solidified as a Cup driver, Hall of Famer, with one championship. I don’t think that’s right to say either. There’s so much more that goes behind it,” he shared.
Indeed, Logano will be the first to credit his team, from those in the Mooresville, North Carolina shop to the at-track personnel who keep his No. 22 Ford Mustang in the fight on a weekly basis.
Posting the seventh quickest time in Friday evening’s practice round, Logano was the fifth quickest in a 10 lap run.
Quiet and steady seems to be Logano’s modus operandi as he drove to his fourth pole position of the season.
Starting first and with the number one pit stall toward Turn 2 for Sunday’s season finale, Logano truly loves his chances.
“I feel like we’re in a great spot right now,” he offered. “I feel like our team is in a great spot for a lot of reasons. For one, we’re not happy to be here. We’re not just happy to be in the Championship 4. This isn’t enough for us.”
Riding along and being happy to be here has never been in Logano’s vocabulary. Rather, it is about winning, rallying and bonding with his team and being the best that he can be for his organization and support system.
If there is a driver who is up to the task against the youngest Championship 4 field in NASCAR Playoffs history, Logano is more than up for the task at hand.
“I feel like that’s a number one driver of the 22 team, to win this thing,” he remarked. “I think with that mentality and the three weeks we’ve had since Vegas, to really focus in here, it’s going to give us a huge advantage to not only have a good practice plan and set our car up, but also execute this race correctly on top of the experience that we got.”
Luis Torres contributed to this feature directly on-site from Phoenix and Avondale, Arizona.