Monday morning NASCAR recap: Confident Joey Logano fulfilling expectations

John Harrelson

Joey Logano has found a home at Penske Racing and in doing so has evolved into the driver many expected he would become.

When Joey Logano joined Penske Racing this past offseason, it represented a new beginning, an opportunity to escape the long shadow of being the driver who replaced Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing.

However, his first season with Penske has been anything but tranquil.

In March, Logano engaged in a heated feud with Denny Hamlin where Logano confronted his former teammate at Bristol and then a week later at Fontana, the two wrecked on the white flag lap battling for the win. The accident left Hamlin with a broken back. And in the same race, Logano drew the ire of Stewart, resulting in a brief scrum that saw the owner/driver chuck a water bottle at his former heir apparent.

These incidents cast Logano in role that he was unaccustomed to.

"I look like a villain, don't I?" Logano said laughing, following his third career victory.

It also didn't help matters when a few weeks later NASCAR discovered unapproved suspension pieces on the Penske cars during pre-race inspection at Texas. The subsequent penalties cost Logano 25 points while his crew chief was suspended for two weeks.

Yet through all the trials and tribulations, Logano and his team have persevered.

"If that doesn't toughen you up, nothing does," he said. "This team has gone through a lot this season ... They don't quit. They keep pushing hard."

Although the results always haven't matched the performance, the No. 22 car has been consistently fast this season and it seemed only a matter of time before Logano was in Victory Lane celebrating. And that moment finally arrived Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

And the win was pivotal for Logano on a multitude of levels.

First, it reaffirmed that Penske made the right choice in hiring the 23-year-old. In four middling seasons at JGR, Logano rarely flashed the form that earned him the nickname "Sliced Bread" (as in best thing since). It seemed for perpetuity he would be the poster boy for what happens when a driver is pushed into a Cup car too soon.

But Penske took a chance and has been rewarded for its faith. Even though Brad Keselowski may be the defending Sprint Cup champion, it's Logano who has Penske's lone victory this season.

That win also moves him into the thick of Chase contention. With three races remaining before the Chase, the standings shows Logano 13th, 17 points out of the top 10 and just seven points behind Martin Truex, Jr. for the second and final Wild Card slot.

This is unfamiliar territory for a driver who for four seasons was viewed as an underachiever.

But Logano is no longer the teenager who is expected to rewrite the NASCAR record book. He has evolved into someone comfortable with himself on and off the track; a driver who no longer feels compelled to apologize for how his actions are perceived.

"I know who I am," Logano said. "I know I did the right thing. I'm confident in myself. There's no regrets for any of that. I can't control what everybody thinks about me.

"I just race like I always have. I didn't change a thing. That's what has got me here and is going to keep me here and keep me winning races."

And if he needs reassurance, all Logano has to do is look at the hardware he collected Sunday.

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