LOUDON, N.H. – Two years ago when Joey Logano came to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Camping World RV Sales 301, the first of his two annual “homecoming” Sprint Cup Series events in Loudon, the questions abounded about just where his career at NASCAR’s highest level was heading.
When Logano, a Middletown native, replaced Tony Stewart in the Joe Gibbs Racing Sprint Cup Series stable in 2009 at 18 years old he was being heralded by many across the landscape of stock racing as the best young talent to arrive in the series years.
But instead of the success expected by so many, Logano found mostly consistent struggles over his first three years in the series.
And by July 2012 it was clear Logano’s days at Joe Gibbs Racing were numbered and it wasn’t quite clear if there was another top level team interested in his services.
This weekend Logano arrives home for the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday in a far different place than two years ago.
The questions these days aren’t about whether or not he can keep up with competition, but rather is the now 24-year old Logano ready to contend for a Sprint Cup championship this year.
Logano goes into Sunday’s race at NHMS riding the momentum of his most successful season in the Sprint Cup Series.
“This track is one of the tougher racetracks for me but it is a special race track for me and I consider it my home track not growing up too far from here,” said Logano, who won his first Sprint Cup Series event as a rookie in 2009 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I watched my first Cup race here and won my first Cup race here so it has always been special for me. We had a good test at [the Milwaukee Mile] a couple weeks ago getting ready for this race and I think we are ready to go. We learned a couple things there that are a little different than we have normally done. We are going to get out of the box a little bit and try a few different things to try to wake up this [car].”
Logano left Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2012 season and went to Penske Racing and it proved a change of scenery that turned his career around.
In 2013 Logano qualified for NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship playoff format for the first time in his career. He ended up eighth in the final standings. In his first four full-time seasons his best finish in the standings was 16th.
And this season Logano has embedded himself near the top of the running order weekly on track and near the top of the standings all season long.
This year NASCAR changed the rules for Chase for the Championship qualifying, creating a 16-driver field with the first criteria for qualifying being wins.
Logano won the seventh race of the season at Texas Motor Speedway and then virtually cemented his spot in the Chase field with his second win in the ninth race of the year at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
“We have been racing hard and racing for wins,” Logano said. “This … team has been fast at each and every race track we have been to so far. It is hard not to have confidence. I know we can win at every one of them. We have to keep the momentum going. We have to keep those good finishes coming along and keep the momentum going and keep our guys ready to go when it comes to Chase time. That is the big time. We have to go out and win races and be there for [the final race of the season at] Homestead.”
After 18 races this year Logano comes to Loudon sitting sixth in the series standings with six top-five’s and nine top-10’s and brimming with confidence.
The numbers show a much different Logano than the young driver that many deemed in over his head in his first four seasons. Logano led a total of 337 laps in Sprint Cup Series competition over his first 147 career starts. Last year he led 323 laps in 36 races. This year he has led 516 laps in the first 18 races of the year.
Logano’s Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski is fourth in the standings, also with two victories.
“We came out of the gates this year with a lot of speed and really, when you see a rule change [involving the Chase qualifying procedure] come up like we have gotten this year it presents a huge opportunity to take that and run with that and that is what Team Penske did,” Logano said. “We ran with it and came out of the gates strong. We got both teams with two wins already and that is one thing we were able to do, take advantage of that opportunity. I feel like we have built on the relationships we have inside Team Penske, whether that is myself and Brad working together for a year and a half now which is a big deal. … We have to just keep doing what we have been doing and keep making sure we work hard and are ready for the Chase.”