NASCAR driver and former Thursday Thunder alumni Joey Logano has three wins on the season and has earned a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. (Special Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
HAMPTON — There was a time when Joey Logano had the nickname “Sliced Bread” around the NASCAR circuit.
It was in reference to the “next best thing since sliced bread,” as the former Alpharetta resident and Thursday Thunder alum was projected to make a fast climb through the NASCAR circuit.
But that climb didn’t accelerate as quickly some had hoped, and some thought he would never live up to those high expectations.
Fast-forward to the 2014 season, and Logano comes to this weekend’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway as one of the hottest drivers on the circuit.
AMS is home, and the former track were Logano dominated as a youth in the grassroots racing series. This time last year, Logano came to AMS needing to do well to remain in contention for a Chase berth.
Now, Logano is one of five drivers with three wins in the Sprint Cup series, and is currently fourth in the Chase Grid.
“Winning the championship is the biggest thing you can do in this sport, and doing it for Ford, yeah, doing it for Team Penske, doing it for everybody,” Logano said. “It’s a lot of pressure when you go into it, but we’re a team, we do it together.”
In his two seasons with Team Penske — the current one less than two-thirds complete - Logano has recorded four of his six career victories and 21 of his 37 career top-five finishes.
AMS president and general manager Ed Clark said he is happy to see Logano finally doing well on the Sprint Cup Series.
“Joey almost won it last year,” Clark said. “A pit stop strategy cost him. He had a real tough time figuring out the track in a Cup car, but I think he is doing well now.”
Crew chief Todd Gordon says growth and maturity have been a key for the 24-year-old Logano.
“He owned the position when he came to the 22 Shell Pennzoil car, and that ownership and the relationship of him to myself, and not only myself but everybody on this race team, has just continued to grow,” Gordon said. “I think an often used word that never gets as much serious consideration is we have chemistry. There’s nobody here on this race team that doesn’t believe we can be successful and isn’t pulling rope together. That is, I think, what helps us to have speed every week. I think we’ll continue to build off that.”
Logano seems to work well with teammate Brad Keselowski, who lobbied for Logano to join Team Penske two years ago.
“We’re entering the Chase strong in a lot of different ways, and I think we’re both legitimate threats to win the championship this year, and I’m proud of that,” Keselowski said.
Prior to last season, Logano struggled at AMS, but his luck changed last year.
Although he doesn’t have a win in seven career starts at the track, he finished a career-best second last year and was 18th in the 2012 race there.
“Well, I haven’t thought about it yet, as far as getting that next win, but I do feel like Atlanta is a good racetrack for us,” Logano said. “It is a place we were very, very fast, probably the best race car I ever had was last year in Atlanta, so very, very excited about going back over there. That will be fun. But you know, really, leading into the Chase does mean something.
“It’s pretty cool if we were able to do that. But I’d much rather lead them at Homestead and do it that way. But I do feel like Brad is going to be one of the top contenders to win this championship along with us, and the guys that you see tough out there. You never know. I know it’s a different Chase format than normal, but you see guys kind of run so so and then all of a sudden the Chase starts and they pick it up a notch and all of a sudden they’re kicking butt, so you can’t really rule anybody out.”