NASCAR Champ Joey Logano Doesn't Mind Being the Bad Boy
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this renegade racer is at the top of his sport.
By Michelle Bruton
OZY Newsmakers: Deep dives on the names you need to know.
As cameras flashed around him, cutting through the smoke from his celebratory burnout, Joey Logano hoisted himself out the driver’s side window of his Ford Fusion and repeatedly slammed both his fists against the roof. On Sunday, the 28-year-old stock car driver won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, beating out the “Big Three” of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. The three former Cup Series champions finished second through fourth. None could keep the kid from breaking up the party.
Logano entered the NASCAR Cup Series at age 18, replacing Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in driving the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota Camry. The following year, Logano became the youngest winner in Cup Series history, with a victory in New Hampshire.
But Logano, who was dubbed “Sliced Bread” (as in, the best thing since), failed to find sustained success during his four-year tenure with JGR, and in 2013, he left to join Team Penske, to drive the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion.
The clean-cut, baby-faced driver from Middletown, Connecticut, seems an unlikely candidate to play the part of NASCAR’s bad boy. But that’s the role Logano settled into, due to his aggressive driving style and high-profile clashes with racing’s bigwigs — Truex Jr., Harvick, Busch, Stewart. Most infamously, in March 2017 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Logano made contact with Busch’s No. 18 Camry on the last lap of the race, causing Busch to spin out. Busch exited his car on pit road, strode up to Logano and threw a punch at his face — causing a melee when the No. 22 Ford’s pit crew rushed to defend Logano.
Some accuse Logano of racing too aggressively — just listen for the chorus of boos from the crowd when he’s introduced before any given race — but he doesn’t see it that way. “This is just who I am,” he says with a devilish grin. “I’ve grown up racing the same way I race now. My mentality has not changed one bit since I was 10 years old. I’m gonna go out there and I’m going to do what I have to do to win the race.”
“Why am I like that?” he muses. “I think it’s naturally who I am; I hate to lose.”
But a lot has changed in the year since his highly publicized fight with Busch. Logano, who married longtime girlfriend Brittany Baca in 2014, became a father this year, welcoming son Hudson Joseph Logano in January. And though he was the youngest of the Championship 4 drivers contending for the Cup Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway this past weekend, other drivers in the Ford EcoBoost 400 — Kyle Larson (26), Ryan Blaney (24), Chase Elliott (22) — make him look like the veteran he is.
If you’re in this position and you’re miserable, I feel really bad for that person, because this is a really badass place to be.
“Joey just continued to mature as a person,” says team owner Roger Penske. But just because Logano is growing up doesn’t mean he’s changing his ways.
“I’m very competitive, and I have a lot of fun,” Logano says. “That’s hard for people to grasp a lot of the time because I’m a hard racer, but then I’ll laugh and joke about it 10 seconds later because I enjoy this stuff and actually have a lot of fun. I think if you’re in this position and you’re miserable, I feel really bad for that person because this is a really badass place to be.”
We could speculate as to which of his fellow drivers Logano is alluding to, but he’s got enough rivals that it would be fruitless. There’s a difference of opinion in the world of stock car racing as to how much contact is permissible in a clean race, and Logano’s competitors often suggest he crosses the median.
At a news conference with the top drivers before the Cup Series final race, Busch said of Brad Keselowski and Logano: “They both run into you a lot.” Logano laughed. “It’s probably best I keep my mouth shut on this one,” he replied.
Indeed, Logano only qualified for the Championship 4 by bumping Truex Jr. out of the way at Martinsville Speedway. “I was taught that you race clean and you beat somebody fair and square,” Truex Jr. says. “That’s a real win. It’s never crossed my mind that, ‘Hey, I can’t pass this guy; I’m just gonna hit him.’ That’s not winning. You may get the trophy that day, but you didn’t win.”
Logano did get the trophy that day — and, more important, he got it last Sunday, winning his first-ever Cup Series. Truex Jr. finished second, and the two were running close together in the final 15 laps. There was more contact, but Logano had nothing but praise for his competitor after the race. “He raced me hard,” Logano said. “He raced me the same way that I would have raced him. But there was nothing dirty …To beat the best, I guess that’s what makes this championship feel so good.”
NBC analyst and former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton attributes Logano’s newfound success to that hard racing style. “It took him 10 years to get it done. He had to learn how to win these races; he had to learn to stand up for himself,” Burton says.
The 10-month NASCAR season now enters a brief lull, and, after he completes his press circuit, Logano will have two months to relax with his family. Last year, Penske extended Logano’s contract, as well as that of his crew chief, Todd Gordon, to “2022 and beyond,” giving Logano about as much job security as a driver can expect in this fast-moving sport and keeping the dream team together for another championship run.
If Logano weren’t racing, what would he be doing? The question elicits a sigh.
“I’d be in trouble,” he says. “I put all my eggs in one basket. I don’t recommend anyone to do that, but it worked for me. I really focused in on being a professional race car driver, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m here. But if it didn’t work, I was hosed.”
Read more: How traditionally White, male and middle-aged NASCAR is finally recruiting and training women as pit crew members, engineers and executives.
- Michelle Bruton, OZY AuthorContact Michelle Bruton