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Joey Logano Facing Uncertain Future With Joe Gibbs Racing

When the nickname "Sliced Bread" has been bestowed upon you and you were hand-picked to fill the seat of a driver who won two championships and 33 races, it is easy for expectations to quickly skyrocket beyond realistic proportions.

Such is life for Joey Logano, who, at 22 years of age, faces a very uncertain future. Fair or not, this is a make-or-break season for the driver, now in his fourth full season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing and in the last year of his contract with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Whether or not the expectations were unrealistic, there is no denying Logano has struggled just to be consistently competitive. Since the 2009 season -- Logano's first with JGR -- he has won just once (and in a rain-delayed race, at that) and has finished no better than 16th in the standings.

And while Logano has been ordinary, his two JGR teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, have been anything but average. In the same timeframe Logano has been a full-time Sprint Cup Series driver, Hamlin has won 15 times, while Busch has won on 12 occasions with. Each has made multiple appearances in the Chase.

All of which is why Logano now faces this reality: He needs to produce this season to keep his spot with one of NASCAR's top teams. If he fails to do so, JGR is likely to replace him with someone who can better replicate the success of the 11 and 18 teams.

If the above scenario were to unfold, it's likely Logano wouldn't find a ride with another team with the caliber of equipment as JGR offers, which would put him on the same path to irrelevance that many drivers with varying degrees of talent have traveled.

"It's pressure all the time, so whether it's a contract year or not, you're always out there to do the same thing," Logano said Tuesday during a NASCAR teleconference. "So for me, I'm out there to win every race and that doesn't change from what it was this year or three years ago. So there's no added pressure to that.

"Is there something extra in your mind? Yeah, there's something extra on your mind that you have to figure out before the season is over. But at the same time, you go out there and focus on your job."

However, there have been some recent glimmers that Logano is maturing into the driver everyone expected him to be since he burst onto the scene and, in just his third Nationwide Series start, won his first race at the age of 18.

Last week at Dover, for example, Logano started the Cup race 11th and ran in the top 15 for nearly the entire afternoon before finishing eighth. This followed a dominating performance in the Nationwide race, where he led 154 of 200 laps and won for the fourth time in 10 series starts.

However, his moments of sustained success are fleeting. And with other drivers on the market who can bring the success JGR needs to keep a high-profile sponsor like Home Depot satisfied, time is quickly running out.

Either Logano ups his game and starts running up front and winning races, like Hamlin and Busch have done this year and for the last three years, or he continues to wither in mediocrity and finds himself searching for a new team in the offseason.

"My job is to go out there to win races, so as long as I do that, all of that will come together pretty easily," Logano said. "I just have to keep focusing on what's most important, and that's this year right now, and all of the stuff will kind of follow when it needs to."

With each passing victory-free race, the clock on Logano's time at JGR continues to count down. Ultimately, the choice as to what direction his career heads in will be made by no one but him.