Joey Logano looked at a preseason NASCAR publication and was a little surprised to see he was picked to finish 15th in the Sprint Cup standings.
He was coming off his best season ever by finishing eighth in 2013 and he figured his second year at Penske Racing should be better than the first.
But there obviously were questions about Logano, about whether his first trip to the Chase for the Sprint Cup also would be his last. That he was a flash-in-the-pan, and that eighth in the standings would be the highest he would ever achieve.
“They had us in 15th and I was like, ‘Why?’” Logano said Friday at Darlington Raceway. “I was reading NASCAR Illustrated and wondered what the heck that was all about. I have set my goal as proving them wrong and so far so good.”
The folks at NASCAR Illustrated weren’t alone in doubting Logano.
More importantly than sending a message to those who thought Logano wouldn’t match last year’s success, Logano’s start to 2014 — he’s fourth in the standings after his win Monday at Texas Motor Speedway — keeps any sense of doubt from creeping inside his head and that of his Team Penske crewmen.
It also is validation that the team has the ability to adjust to new rules. Logano ranks third in laps led (11.86 percent, behind only Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harivck) and third in miles led (12.41 percent, behind Johnson and Brad Keselowski).
He will start … Saturday night in the Bojangles 500 at Darlington Raceway.
“It is important to come out here and run strong because we ended the year with momentum and we know we need to keep that going,” Logano said. “With all the rules changes and everything changing this year, it was going to be a challenge but also an opportunity to capitalize on that and I feel Team Penske has done a great job with that, qualifying, aero, ride heights, we have been able to capitalize on all of that.
“We have been able to take that momentum through the offseason and keep it there.”
In four years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano never had the confidence he has now. Actually he had it at JGR, but just in the Nationwide Series and not in his Cup car.
“I was able to drive those Nationwide cars with a ton of confidence because I was able to go out there and win,” Logano said. “If you look at our stats this year, we have run really well and that brings a lot of confidence.
“That is what momentum is; it is the same thing. We are able to use that to our advantage and that goes throughout the whole team, not just the driver. The team is in great spirits and they have been working really hard over the past few weeks testing a lot and it makes it all worth it when you win a race.”
Logano has been the driver people point to as starting too young in Cup. He replaced Tony Stewart at age 18 at Joe Gibbs Racing and the learning curve was brutal. He won two races over four seasons and never made the Chase, eventually being replaced by Matt Kenseth.
“I feel like it has taken me quite a number of years to figure out what I need to do in this sport and how to race against these guys and what I need in the racecar here to run well,” Logano said. “Did I start too soon? Yeah, no doubt I did.
“But it is an experience that I value a lot right now because I am (23) years old with six years of experience behind me and there is nobody else out here who has that.”
In other words, those years of experience now have some worth even if they were difficult and brought up questions about his talent — questions that were still obvious at least in the preseason with all the predictions of him losing some of his 2013 luster.
“I am thankful for that opportunity (at JGR) and the tough times I went through to figure it out,” Logano said. “We have had a lot of fast cars lately and led laps in about every race.
“We have that win and we have a lot of top-five’s and are sitting fourth in points. Things are going good right now. All the hard work is paying off.”