At just 26, Logano on cusp of a cham­pi­onship

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Joey Logano still has a youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance — the kind of guy who would watch “Boy Meets World” to re­lax the night be­fore a cham­pi­onship race. He is still as goofy as he was when he broke into NASCAR as its next big phe­nom the day he turned 18. His care­free de­meanor off the track be­lies the fact that, eight sea­sons later, he has de­vel­oped into a cut­throat driver with a win-at-all-costs ap­proach.

Logano is so dif­fer­ent now from the wide-eyed kid who was un­ex­pect­edly pro­moted into Tony Ste­wart’s ride with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing for his first full sea­son. He’s raced for and lost a cham­pi­onship, he’s feuded with top driv­ers, he’s worked hard to shake the la­bel as a spoiled daddy’s boy who coasted to the top. It took a sec­ond chance at only 22 given by Roger Penske for Logano to flour­ish, in and out of the race car.

He doesn’t care who is mad at him, he’s not here to make friends. Logano is here to win races, and he lets very lit­tle get in his way. “I wouldn’t say I wasn’t ma­ture for my age, but I’ve got more ex­pe­ri­ence now do­ing what I’m do­ing and rac­ing up front and rac­ing the best,” he told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “As you get older, you go through stages, right? You get mar­ried, and then you are mar­ried for a while and are get­ting your life go­ing, then you take the next steps af­ter that. “Not only from a rac­ing side of things, but from a busi­ness side of the sport, I’ve be­come way more in­volved in that and un­der­stand­ing what it takes. I think that’s kind of changed my at­ti­tude at the race track. I’m still Joey, though. I still like watch­ing funny TV shows, I still want to get my mind off of things. But I am more aware of what’s go­ing on in my mind, what I’m con­scious about, what am I think­ing about and how to be­come the best.” Logano made it to the 2014 cham­pi­onship race and with­stood a bar­rage of needling from Kevin Har­vick to have a shot at the ti­tle. But a slow pit stop ended his cham­pi­onship chances. He would have made it back to the fi­nale last year, but he was adamantly un­apolo­getic about his role in an ac­ci­dent with Matt Kenseth that virtually ended Kenseth’s Chase.

Viewed by Kenseth and many of his peers as ar­ro­gant over the in­ci­dent, Kenseth in­ten­tion­ally wrecked Logano weeks later and that stopped Logano from ad­vanc­ing to the fi­nale.

The ex­pe­ri­ence even­tu­ally be­came a les­son for Logano (who in­deed did watch “Boy Meets World” the night be­fore the 2014 cham­pi­onship). He knows now that he should have called Kenseth to triage any bad blood. In fact, Logano uses ev­ery­thing as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, part of the play­book that has shaped him into the hus­band and racer he is to­day. Penske mar­vels at the leader Logano has be­come.

“We moved on, and quite hon­estly, I think Joey and Matt have worked it out on the race­track, and hope­fully per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally they know how to do their jobs,” Penske said.

Far from the most dom­i­nant driver in this Chase, Logano twice won elim­i­na­tion races in th­ese play­offs to ad­vance to the next round. Res­cued last week by a late cau­tion in a race that could have elim­i­nated him,, he went on to win and earn the spot Sunday against de­fend­ing se­ries cham­pion Kyle Busch, Carl Ed­wards and Jim­mie John­son. He is try­ing to be­come the first Ford driver to win the ti­tle since Kurt Busch in 2004, the first year of the Chase.

“Joey is phe­nom­e­nal about el­e­vat­ing,” Penske said. “There’s very few pro­fes­sional ath­letes that can el­e­vate to that level when the pres­sure comes on, and Joey has done it time and time again.” He’s the ex­am­ple for his No. 22 team and sets the tone for crew chief Todd Gor­don.

Like Logano, Gor­don has lost a cham­pi­onship and that 2014 ex­pe­ri­ence has al­lowed for a far more re­laxed ap­proach to this week­end. But it’s Logano who has told the team this race is no dif­fer­ent than the other 37 on the sched­ule. “It’s a nor­mal race week­end,” Logano said. “We go to win ev­ery week­end, and I’m not go­ing to change what we do just be­cause what’s on the line.” He cred­its heav­ily his ex­pe­ri­ence in the 2014 fi­nale for his cur­rent mind­set, and flatly dis­misses the idea that some­one has to lose a cham­pi­onship race to win one.

“I’m very dif­fer­ent, in a good way, though,” he says.

His ex­pe­ri­ence, the in­fec­tious work ethic and lead­er­ship of Penske and that con­fi­dence — he be­lieves he’s the best driver on the track. For your Free ticket - please Con­tact Barbara Nor­ton @ 845.400.1220 or bnor­ton@ad­taxi.com

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