When Joey Logano straps into the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, his killer instincts kick in.
As relentless as Logano is behind the wheel, the 30-year-old former Cup champion is also incredibly compassionate and empathetic off the track, as he proved repeatedly. One of Logano’s most recent acts of kindness came when he reached out to Erik Jones following the young drivers dismissal from the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing.
After watching Jones’ gut-wrenching interview with NBC Sports, Logano felt compelled to lend an empathetic ear.
“I’ve been there before and I just wanted to,” Logano said. “I watched his interview before the race at Michigan. I was sitting in my bus, and he was with Marty Snider and the question was asked about next year and what it was, and I said, ‘Oh, my God. I remember this.’ It just came rushing back and I was like, ‘Oh, this poor kid.’
“So I texted him on the way home on the airplane and said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve been where you’ve been before. If you need someone to talk to about it, there aren’t many people who can understand exactly what you’re going through right now. I’m here. If you want to talk about it, that’s great. If not, that’s fine, too.’ He reached back and said he wanted to go to lunch and I said, ‘Sure, we’ll go to lunch.’”
Logano remembered vividly what it was like to be the odd man out at Joe Gibbs Racing. He wanted to offer Jones whatever solace and counsel he could. Jones’ first question: How has Logano’s life and career changed after leaving Gibbs for Penske?
“Hearing his whole story is scary how similar it is, like it is almost identical the way he was brought up racing, the way he was at Gibbs,” Logano said. “It was almost identical.
“That being said, you can’t tell the future and know where he’s gonna go next and that it’s all gonna be great and it be the best thing that ever happened to him, but I did say that God put you in these positions a lot of times to make you stronger and grow you and direct you in the place He wants you to be.
“In the moment, you don’t know that. In the moment, it’s the worst. It’s awful. The stress and I remember thinking so many times that, ‘Oh my gosh, all I ever wanted to be was a race car driver. I put all my eggs in this basket and it’s coming to an end. What am I gonna do with my life?’ Those thoughts run through my mind and it’s kind of scary, it’s really scary if we’re being honest.”
Logano was just 22 when he was told his contract would not be renewed at JGR. Very similar to Jones, Logano’s formative NASCAR years were spent under the Gibbs and Toyota banner. Jones was also 18 when he started racing for JGR but fell under the Toyota Racing driver development program, cutting his teeth in the truck series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Both drivers posted just two Cup wins during their tenure at JGR—and both were way overshadowed by the other superstar drivers in the stable. Still, there was no Race Car Driver 101 class for aspiring drivers—or a road map how to handle being cut from the roster.
At least Logano had his father to fall back on. Jones' dad, Dave, whom he affectionately referred to as “Papa Bear,” passed away from cancer in June 2016.
“It’s kind of hard to explain to some people because you’re still driving a race car for a living and it’s not that bad in comparison to what a lot of people have to go through,” Logano said. “But it’s still something that’s challenging and doing that without your dad there for him, because that’s the guy he grew up racing with his family and his dad and I just couldn’t imagine doing that without him, so I just tried to speak some life into my situation and what can be for his.”
While change was frightening for Logano at the time, the move to Team Penske not only expedited his maturation process but provided the driver with a fresh start. Since taking over the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford in 2013, Logano has logged 23 wins, 17 poles and the 2018 Cup championship. He’s advanced to the Playoffs seven of eight seasons and his currently fourth in the standings.
Jones has been rumored as a candidate for the fourth car at Hendrick Motorsports after Jimmie Johnson retires from full-time competition at the end of the season. With the Cup seats that are available for 2022, certainly, HMS would be the best possible scenario, but Kyle Larson and Chase Briscoe's names have been mentioned as well.
Regardless of where Jones lands next season, Logano is impressed by the young driver’s potential.
“It doesn’t mean that he’s gonna win the championship three years from now like we were able to do,” Logano said. “Who knows what’s gonna happen, but I do know that it’s steering him down a direction that God is pointing him to be in. Like I said, it felt so similar that I had to say something and after talking to him it was crazy how close it was, so the whole situation all the way through was like, ‘Yep. I’ve been there.’ So it was kind of fun to talk to him and I hope something works out for him, I really do.
“He seems to be a really good kid. I say kid, I sound like an old guy when I say that, but, young man, I guess. But he’s grown a lot already in a lot of the same ways that I have. I came in as a cocky, arrogant little kid that was gonna come in and beat everybody, and then I realized that I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to do and him showing his humbleness to talk to me about that shows a lot of growth as well.”