2014 Sprint Cup championship preview: Joey Logano


Driver: Joey Logano
Age: 24
Full-time seasons in Sprint Cup: six
Career starts: 218
Career wins: 8
Career top-5 finishes: 43
Career top-10 finishes: 82
Pole positions: 8

* 2014 record to date: 35 starts, five wins, 16 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes. One pole. Laps led: 993. Average start per race: 9.8. Average finish per race: 11.2. Lead lap finishes: 29.

* Highest single-season finish to date: Eighth, 2013

* Season finishes to date: 2008 (41st), 2009 (20th), 2010 (16th), 2011 (24th), 2012 (17th), 2013 (eighth).

* Homestead Record: 5 career starts, 0 wins, 0 top-5s, 1 top-10, 1 pole. Best career finish: Eighth in 2013. Average start: 18.0. Average finish: 20.8.

* Year-by-year finishes at Homestead: 2009 (24th), 2010 (39th), 2011 (19th), 2012 (14th), 2013 (eighth).

Will “Sliced Bread” make mincemeat of his other three championship challengers?

This hasn’t just been Joey Logano’s breakout season, it’s also been a coming of age season for the 24-year-old Connecticut native.

With five of his eight career to-date wins coming in 2014, Logano has lived up to all the expectations and predictions made about him by numerous drivers over the years, including Mark Martin and Randy LaJoie, who nicknamed Logano “Sliced Bread” – as in the best thing to come along since sliced bread.

With teammate Brad Keselowski being eliminated from advancement to the Chase final round this past Sunday at Phoenix, Logano has the title hopes of the entire Penske Racing organization riding on his shoulders heading to Homestead.

Will he be able to handle the pressure, as well as the expectations from his organization?

No problem, says Logano, who is feeling more than confident.

“It is exactly how you would think it feels – it’s the accumulation of a whole season of hard work,” he said. “This No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford team has been strong all year, and I think we deserve to be in the final four competing for this Championship.

“I think it would have been a shame not to race for the title after the year we have had. Thankfully, we were able to make it through the Chase and make it to the final round. All of the teams in the Chase will say the same thing, but we deserve it.

“This team has worked its butt off all year long. We’ve been through a lot and we’ve come a long way to get where we are. (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) has led this team, and we are all very close. This is the type of team you win Championships with.”

One thing not exactly in Logano’s favor is his past history at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In five starts on the 1.5-mile track, Logano has just one top-10 finish (eighth, last season) and one other top-15 finish (14th in 2012).

He’s completed just 92.4 percent (1,234) of the 1,335 total laps he’s completed in contested in his five career starts at Homestead.

And perhaps the biggest key stat of all: His average starting position there is 18.0, and his average finishing position is worse at 20.8. He also has one DNF at HMS.

At the same time, two of Logano’s five wins this season have come on 1.5-mile tracks (Texas in spring, Kansas in fall). He also has four other top-five finishes on 1.5-milers.

That bodes well for Sunday’s race.

When asked to size up his competition, here’s what Logano had to say:

“I think they are all going to be strong. You don’t make it to this position without being strong. Kevin (Harvick), of course, has been strong all year long. They’ve led a lot of laps, and they’ve been strong at almost every single track.

“Denny (Hamlin) and that team have been coming on lately, and they’ve been strong in the Chase. And he won last year at Homestead, and that’s probably one of his better tracks.

“And Ryan (Newman) is consistent. Sometimes you just don’t think about him and there he is running fourth or fifth in the race out of nowhere.

“All of the teams are strong, but I think the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil team is just as strong, if not stronger, than all of them. I think we have as good of a shot as anyone, and I’d put my money on me. It will be fun to watch as a fan, for sure.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

GARAGE 56 SPECS: Full comparison of NASCAR Cup car to Le Mans car

BUTTON’S BIG MOVE: Hendrick drone tour was NASCAR entryway for F1 champion

France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”