It’s easy to forget sometimes that even with four full NASCAR Sprint Cup seasons under his belt, Joey Logano is still just 22 years old, nowhere near the peak of his career.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will run for rookie-of-the-year honors in the Sprint Cup Series this year, is two-and-a-half years older than Logano. Defending series champion Brad Keselowski, Logano’s new teammate, is more than six years older than the Connecticut native.
But regardless of age, Logano’s in the big leagues and there are a number of changes for him this season, a critical one in his development.
After spending his entire NASCAR career at Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano moves to Penske Racing for 2013. Keselowski lobbied hard to get Logano and is counting on his young prodigy to help him win another championship.
Pennzoil, the sponsor of Logano’s No. 22 Ford Fusion, is hoping their newest driver will do good things for the brand after Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger had disastrous PR gaffes in 2011 and ’12, respectively. Pennzoil believes so strongly in Logano that the company last week signed a multi-year contract extension to remain Logano’s primary sponsor and a technology partner with Penske.
Ford Motor Co., which last won a Cup championship in 2004 with Busch, has huge expectations now that Penske has switched back to Ford this season.
Last but not least, there’s a new car to learn, the Generation 6 Sprint Cup cars, which should be a lot different than the former Car of Tomorrow, the model used from 2007-2012.
Add it all up and it’s a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old — any 22-year-old — but probably not nearly as much as Logano faced at age 18, when he replaced Tony Stewart in the iconic No. 20 Home Depot-sponsored Toyota at JGR.
More than anything, though, it’s a steep learning curve.
“I’ve learned a lot already,” Logano said. “Learning what these cars want, what Penske Racing has been doing over the last few years to make speed, and the routes they’ve gone with their chassis and their bodies. And now with these 2013 Generation 6 cars, we definitely all have a lot to learn there. Hopefully we’re at a good rate of getting things figured out,” he said.
For his career so far, Logano has two race victories, five poles, 16 top-five and 41 top-10 finishes in 147 Sprint Cup starts.
Logano is optimistic that he’ll improve those numbers at Penske.
“It’s been an adjustment, for sure,” Logano said. “And it’s been all good. I think switching teams and coming to Penske Racing, I don’t think there’s a better place to come to.”
Working for the legendary Roger Penske, who runs one of the cleanest and most buttoned-down operations in NASCAR, has been an eye-opener for Logano.
“That’s still my reaction when I walk in: Holy crap, look at this place,” said Logano. “That hasn’t changed yet. And it’s not just the facility, it’s the people they have here and the communication they have here. They have the recipe to win.”
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.