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CUP: End Of An Era For Logano

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Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will mark the end of one chapter of Joey Logano’s professional career and the start of another.

Logano, who is still just 22 years old, has made 144 of his 146 career NASCAR Sprint Cup starts driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Sunday will be his 145th and final start for the team before he departs to join Penske Racing, where next year he’ll join likely 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.

Brought in at the tender age of 18 to drive the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota after NASCAR legend Tony Stewart departed to start his own team in 2009, Logano never achieved the lofty goals that he and the team hoped for.

In four years where teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch combined to win 30 races and usually competed for the Sprint Cup championship, Logano failed to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. His career stats show two victories, 16 top-five and 41 top-10 finishes, and a best points position of 16th. He is currently 17th in the standings heading into Homestead.

Those are respectable numbers, certainly, but in the ultra-high-pressure world of NASCAR, they made Logano expendable when 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth became available for next year.

That said, it’s entirely possible — likely, even — that Logano will go on to achieve great things at Penske, where he won’t be a rookie following a multi-time champion in one of the highest-profile rides in the sport.

Certainly, Logano’s success in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where this year he’s won nine races, suggest that the talent is there if the right pieces are put around him. Without question, Keselowski has blossomed quickly in the Penske system, and Logano could, too.

Logano is philosophical about wrapping up his career with JGR.

“Man, this is the end of an era this weekend at Homestead,” Logano said. “It will be crazy to climb in that No. 20 one last time on Sunday morning and know that it’s the last time I will be behind the wheel of that car. It’s been a long time and in the Cup world, it’s all I’ve ever known. So it will be pretty crazy to think that this is the last time I will be with the car and these guys.”

Logano said the ride with JGR has been a good one.

“We’ve had a lot of good memories in my four years in the No. 20,” he said, “from winning that first race to getting voted into the All-Star race my rookie season to winning again this year at Pocono and beating my childhood idol Mark Martin in the process. The guys on the team have been great to me over the years. They’ve stuck by me and they’ve always supported me and my driving.

“So it will be sad to leave them, but I will have lasting friendships with a lot of them, and I’m sure I will see them in the garage area and stop by and see how things are going. But that is how this sport works. We move on and move onto other opportunities.”

Still, the change will be noticeable for Logano.

“I’m sure Matt (Kenseth) will do a good job with the guys,” he said. “… It will be weird to be out there on the track next year and think that I will be racing against the Home Depot No. 20 and not driving it. But I will forever be grateful for what they have done for me and my career. The best thing we can do this weekend is to go out there and try to go out with a bang and give them a win in my last race in the Home Depot Toyota.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.

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