Joey Logano looks to defend his Pure Michigan 400 victory from one year ago.
Once acrimoniously nicknamed “sliced bread,” the 24-year-old driver of the #22 Penske Ford is having the best Sprint Cup season in what is already his sixth full year on the circuit (time really does fly). With two wins under his belt in 2014, Texas and Richmond, he sits comfortably in the Chase field even when he is occasionally wrecked by drivers 50 plus years his senior.
Michigan International Speedway is one of the strongest tracks, statistically speaking, in Logano’s career. In his eleven starts leading up to Sunday’s race, he has finished in the top-10 six times. He has finished in the top-fuve once, with his victory last August. He also has one pole (last August as well) and has led a career total of 101 laps at the track.
On his website, Logano talked about his victory at Michigan last year, his first for team owner Roger Penske:
“It was big for me and my team. We had run really well up until that point. We had a few races up to that point that I thought we could have competed for the win for sure. We just didn’t have the finishes that we could have had. But we were getting better as a team, and we were running better the second time around at places. But that weekend, everything just clicked. We were fast in practice. We won the pole and set a new track record. We were fast in the race, and there were different pit strategies. We knew we had the best car – we just had to hope it played out right, and it did. It was awesome to finally get that win for myself, for my team and most importantly for Roger (Penske).”
And what a relief it must have been for the Middletown, Connecticut, driver. In the early part of his Sprint Cup career, many critics believed Logano an overrated driver who didn’t deserve Tony Stewart’s departing seat at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2009. He won a race that year at Loudon, but it was a rain-shortened event that did little to boost his prestige in the NASCAR world.
In his entire career at Joe Gibbs Racing, he often played second-fiddle to teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. He did get one more win for the organization at Pocono in 2012, but by the end of the year, with the arrival of Matt Kenseth on the horizon, it was clear Logano needed to find a new ride.
Enter the big mouth of Kurt Busch.
With the firing of the elder Busch from Penske at the end of 2012, Logano quickly filled the vacant seat of the #22 Dodge-turned-Ford for the Captain. He has had no regrets. With three wins in less than two seasons with the team, he has already out-performed his total win output in four years at JGR. And rather than playing second-fiddle to his teammate, he and Brad Keselowski have a great chemistry and work well together on and off the track.
No one calls Logano “sliced bread” much anymore. By the end of this season, they may call him a Sprint Cup champion. And a win at Michigan Sunday will bring him one step closer to champagne at Homestead.