by Ryan Isley
Joey Logano will find himself in unfamiliar territory when the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season begins. Instead of being just another possible contender, Logano will have to be looked at as a possible favorite to win the championship.
The now 24-year-old driver had shown glimpses of the talent that made him shoot through the ranks of NASCAR heading into last season, recording 12 top-5s and 19 top-10s in 2013. The only thing holding Logano back from being a serious threat to the Sprint Cup Series championship was that he had not proven himself to be a threat to win anytime he put a car on the racetrack.
That changed in 2014.
Entering last season, Joey Logano had three career victories in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. He matched that number in 2014 before the series headed to the Chase for the Sprint Cup, winning three times in the first 24 races of the season and entered the Chase in a tie for second behind teammate Brad Keselowski. Logano picked up two more wins in the Chase, putting his new career high for a season at five wins.
It was certainly a career year for Logano.
Along with the career-high five wins, Logano also set new career highs in top-5s with 16 and top-10s with 22. His average starting position of 9.8 and average finishing position of 11.3 were also career bests in a career year. By leading 993 laps on the season, Logano more than tripled his previous career best of 323 laps led in 2013. He also finished 30 of the 36 races on the lead lap.
It wasn’t just a career best season, however. Logano’s success placed him in the top echelon of drivers in the series for the year. His five wins tied him for second-most in the series with champion Kevin Harvick, just one win behind Keselowski. His 16 top-5s and 22 top-10s were also second-best in the series, with Keselowski finishing with one more top-5 and Jeff Gordon with one more top-10. Only Gordon’s average finish of 10.4 was better than Logano’s 11.3.
All of that added up to a career-high finish in the final standings, as Logano ended up making the final stage of the new Chase and finished fourth behind Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin. The reason he finished fourth wasn’t even a driver issue – his pit crew screwed up a late pit stop that put Logano behind the eight ball and eventually led to his finish.
All of a sudden, the driver who made his much anticipated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at the age of 18 is becoming a force. It seems like it took a while for Logano to get to this point, but it is easy to remember that he was in a full-time ride in NASCAR’s premier division as a teenager without having so much as a full season in the Nationwide Series in which to draw experience. He entered the 2014 season at 23 years old, younger than any Sprint Cup Series champion since 1995, when Gordon entered at 23 years old and turned 24 just a few months prior to lifting his first of four career championship trophies.
Despite not winning the title, the experience Logano gained in 2014 is something that he will be able to use in his push towards a championship. It is something Logano did not have going into last season’s Chase or the championship race, which prompted me to pick him to finish second in that final Chase segment. That will all be different starting in 2015.
With a career season behind him and the experience of racing for a championship under his belt, the sky could be the limit for Logano.