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Joey Logano matures into contender on NASCAR circuit

Joey Logano speaks to the media following his win in Texas on Monday. The former Thursday Thunder standout is currently fourth in the Sprint Cup Series standings. (Special Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Joey Logano speaks to the media following his win in Texas on Monday. The former Thursday Thunder standout is currently fourth in the Sprint Cup Series standings. (Special Photo: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Joey Logano

Age: 23

Car: No. 22 Ford

Crew chief: Todd Gordon

Team: Penske Racing

Where he stands: After winning Monday at Texas, Joey Logano climbed four places in the standings, from eighth to fourth. He trails points leader Jeff Gordon by 24 points, is 12 points behind third-ranked Carl Edwards and leads fifth-ranked Kyle Busch by four points.

Darlington record: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 2 top-10s, 0 poles. Best career finish: Ninth in 2009. Finished 22nd in this race last year and was 10th in the 2012 race there.

Source: Reuters

Just a few short years ago, Joey Logano was polishing his driving skills on the track at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Thursday Thunder grassroots summer racing series.

Most would agree at the time that Logano was destined for some success on the NASCAR circuit. Last season, he was part of The Chase for the Sprint Cup Series standings. With a win in the Duck Commander 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, Logano all but assured himself of a spot in this season’s Chase.

The Connecticut native and one-time Alpharetta resident was pleased to finally get his breakthrough win this season. He started in the top five spot four times this season, including being on the pole at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early March, but didn’t get a win.

It happened last weekend.

“It’s frustrating when you have winning cars and you didn’t capitalize on it,” Logano said in a press conference. “That’s frustrating. On the flipside of that, you got winning cars, it’s a lot better to struggle than finish 10th, so I’m proud of that. You’re able to ride that momentum of having fast race cars at every racetrack.

“Martinsville we had a top-five car, California we did, Bristol we did, Phoenix we did. All these tracks, we’ve been in contention, been up there. I’m proud to be a part of that. I’m glad to drive this race car and this team has been doing a great job. I tell you, they’ve been giving me what I need to go out there and win these things.”

Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark isn’t surprised about Logano’s victory.

“There is a saying in NASCAR that if you keep staying close at the end, your time will come,” Clark said. “At the beginning of the season, I felt this could be his breakout year. He has really matured, and he is a much more intelligent driver now. His confidence has really grown.”

Logano’s crew chief Todd Gordon agreed about the maturity of the 23-year-old Logano.

“When you get two restarts, when we put him in a position to be aggressive, he can be aggressive,” Gordon said. “He knows what he needs to do with his race car to capitalize. He gets after it. I feel like you give your driver the best opportunity to capitalize. Joey is really good at capitalizing on restarts. He’s one of the best. I don’t know that I can put anybody beyond him. I didn’t want to handicap him with where he’s the most talented.”

With Monday’s win, Logano became the seventh different winner in as many races this season.

This weekend, Logano will try for two wins in a row when he heads to the traditionally tough Darlington Raceway in South Carolina for the Bojangle’s Southern 500 on Saturday.

His best finish in five starts at Darlington was ninth in 2009. Last year, he was 22nd at the race.

“It is definitely one of those places where you find yourself out of breath when you take the checkered flag,” Logano said. “I remember the first time I did a qualifying lap at Darlington as a rookie and I got out of the car and was just shaking. I think my first words were ‘Whoa’ when it was all finished. And we qualified fifth that year. You are right on the edge, trying to go as fast as possible, just inches from the wall. It makes you a little jittery. I heard it was even crazier before they repaved it as well, although since they repaved it, the speeds are up.”