The Frontstretch: 2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Joey Logano by Kevin Rutherford -- Friday December 28, 2012

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2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Joey Logano

Kevin Rutherford · Friday December 28, 2012

 

Joey Logano

2012 Ride: No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2012 Primary Sponsors: The Home Depot for 24 races, Dollar General for 12.
2012 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2012 Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Stats: 36 races, one win, two top 5s, 12 top 10s, three DNFs, two poles, 190 laps led, 17th in points.

Best Finish: 1st (Pocono – June).
Average Finish: 17.4.

2012 Team Ranking: 3rd out of three at Joe Gibbs Racing. Comparatively, Logano’s JGR teammates’ seasons were far more fruitful in 2012. Denny Hamlin scored five wins, finishing sixth in points, while Kyle Busch ran 10th or better 20 times and barely missed the Chase. It was certainly understandable, by comparison that Logano became the odd man out at the team with Matt Kenseth’s arrival.

High Point: In June, Logano scored his first pole of the season at the tricky Pocono Raceway. By weekend’s end, he was still atop the leaderboard, having won his first Cup Series race since 2009 — his rookie season. It wasn’t a dominating performance, with Logano leading 49 of 160 laps, and to earn the victory “Sliced Bread” had to slam one of his longtime mentors, Mark Martin, out of the way. But it’s tough to argue with a start-first, end-first type of race.

Low Point: How about the first 10 races of 2012? After finishing ninth and 10th to start the year, Logano went through a string of eight races in which he finished no better than 15th and placed outside the top 20 four times. The rumor mill had been churning previously about whether or not he would be replaced at Gibbs beyond 2012, but such talk kicked into full gear with his lackluster performance prior to that Pocono victory.

Summary: Tough year. Joey Logano won in the Cup Series for the first time since 2009, but had little to cheer about otherwise. His 2012 kicked off horribly, and prior to that Pocono win he was sitting a mere 16th in points — not something one would expect from a guy driving for a championship-caliber organization. Logano did improve a bit midseason, becoming a longshot for a “wild card” slot although he ultimately missed the Chase. Still, his postseason was strong — he finished in the top 10 four times, scoring a pole at Homestead and made his presence felt. But given teammate Denny Hamlin’s championship-level season, it was the last straw at JGR for a kid originally raved about as the next big thing in NASCAR.

Off-Track News: In September, Logano announced he would be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2012 for Roger Penske Racing’s No. 22 ride, ending speculation on the subject and coinciding with Matt Kenseth’s move to the vacated No. 20.

2013 Outlook: Next year could be a make-or-break year for Logano, despite his beginning with a new team. The No. 22 didn’t do much with AJ Allmendinger and Sam Hornish, Jr. behind the wheel, but its teammate, Brad Keselowski and the No. 2, is coming off a series championship. Logano will do well to team up with Keselowski as a younger organization to learn what it takes to challenge for wins and championships. But if he’s unable to perform, it could be that the former flavor of the week may not be cut out for NASCAR’s highest level. Then again, Logano’s shown he’s a little too good for Nationwide, so unless there’s improvement, he could always be stuck in some sort of limbo between the two series.

2011 Frontstretch Grade: D.
2012 Grade: C. Logano improved a bit from his dismal 2011, but by only a little — plus, his win knocks up his grade at least a little bit. A victory, two top 5s and 12 top 10s would be admirable for some drivers, but not for a fourth-year wheelman for Joe Gibbs Racing.

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