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New England native Logano was tested before becoming a NASCAR Cup champion

  • Joey Logano (right) stands with his wife Brittany Baca and their son Hudson after winning the NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month in Homestead, Fla. The victory capped quite a year for the Connecticut native. AP file

  • Joey Logano holds the trophy after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship auto race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky

  • Joey Logano waves his steering wheel as confetti flies after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Championship auto race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna) Terry Renna

  • Joey Logano (22) makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Cup Series championship auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky



Monitor staff
Friday, December 07, 2018

Joey Logano doesn’t live in New England anymore. Like most drivers racing in NASCAR’s premier Cup series, he’s made Charlotte, N.C., his home.

But the 28-year-old Connecticut native, who was crowned the Cup series champion in November, remembers getting his first glimpse of live NASCAR racing as a young fan in Loudon when the racing body expanded to the northeast in the 1990s.

He earned his first Cup series win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2009, becoming the youngest driver to win in series history at 19 years old.

It’s no surprise Logano calls NHMS his home track.

“It’s really special there for me,” he told the Monitor while making media rounds last week.

It’s been a good year for Logano. He started 2018 with the birth of his first child in January and ended as a title winner in one of the top auto-racing bodies in the world.

Logano started out racing go-karts in southern New England and climbed the ranks while tuning his skills with the wheel. He was already a decorated champion by the age of 10 when his family moved to Georgia and Logano began racing and succeeding in Bandolero and Legend cars.

Logano was viewed by many in NASCAR as a wunderkind in racing as he gained more attention. When Logano was just 15 years old, Mark Martin said there was “no doubt in my mind” that Logano could be “one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR.”

But when Logano broke into NASCAR’s Cup series as an 18-year-old driver for Joe Gibbs, the wins did not come together as quickly as he hoped. His 2009 victory at NHMS was his only visit to Victory Lane in his first four years in the Cup series.

Logano faced a lot of pressure when one considers his age and the level of competition he had so quickly found himself up against, but that did not stop some from questioning whether he had the talent to stay in the series.

Gibbs moved on from Logano after the 2012 season, replacing him with veteran Matt Kenseth. Without a ride, Logano’s future was – for the first time – unclear, until a seat opened at Team Penske following a failed drug test by one of Roger Penske’s drivers.

Logano turned out to have an advocate on the team already in Brad Keselowski, who was fresh off winning the Cup title that season and urged Penske to give the keys of the No. 22 car to Logano.

“I felt pretty confident he had a lot of natural talent and would learn in time how to apply it,” Keselowski told ESPN leading up to November’s championship race at Homestead-Miami this year.

The move to Penske seemed more like a fresh start for Logano than when he started with Gibbs, where he replaced two-time (and eventually three-time) Cup champion Tony Stewart.

Logano won one race in his first year with Penske, but his 11 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes were the best of his career. He then went on the most explosive run of his career gathering 14 wins in the next three seasons and was among the final eight in the 2016 playoffs.

His successful surge stalled in 2017 when he missed the playoffs. Logano’s win at Richmond that season would have given him an automatic playoff berth but he was denied when the 22 team was penalized for a rear suspension violation.

Logano opened the 2018 season with a fourth-place finish at Daytona. A few months later he secured a spot in the playoffs by winning at Talladega, and went on to finish in the top-10 in six of the next 10 races.

The confidence was starting to build back up in the 22 Penske garage, a process that Logano says takes time. It’s one of the lessons he’s learned in his 10 years competing at the Cup level.

“The recovery process of missing the playoffs last year to getting to where we were in championship form is not something that happens overnight, it’s not a quick recovery,” Logano said. “It takes time, and over the past year and a half or so I feel like we’ve slowly been making some progress.”

That progress gave Logano the confidence to call his shot after winning at Martinsville, locking him into a spot in the final round of four.

Heading to Homestead, he told the media that he was the favorite to win it all, and when he climbed into his 22 Ford, he told a crew member, “I’m getting in as a driver and getting out as a champion.”

His quick pass over the defending champion Martin Truex Jr. for the lead in the closing laps at Homestead sealed the deal. Just a few weeks earlier, Logano and Truex made contact as they chased down the checkered flag at Martinsville. Truex spun out, leaving Logano on an open path to the win.

In today’s playoff format, the win at Martinsville gave Logano’s team some breathing room as there were still two races left in the round of eight and Logano had already advanced to the round of four. With that time, the 22 team could rest a little bit while getting a head start on preparing their championship car.

Meanwhile, Logano was already in the championship mindset. He may not have been one of the “Big Three” this season (that was Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex with 20 wins between them), but he beat all three when it mattered most.

Logano believes this playoff format allows the cream to rise to the top.

“The greatest thing about sports is the playoffs where you have the athletes that can rise to the occasion and you see the other side, as well. You learn so much about yourself in those situations, how to handle them and be stronger if you don’t do good. I just feel like you find the best out of yourself in those situations. I love it for that reason.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321 or nstoico@cmonitor.com.)