Joey Logano is NASCAR’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Off the track, Logano is gracious and philanthropic. But put a helmet on the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, and "take no prisoners" doesn’t begin to describe his competitive philosophy.
Logano is brimming with confidence. And he believes this team is the favorite to win the NASCAR Cup Championship this weekend at Phoenix Raceway.
“The experience is there, the speed is there,” Logano said. “I think the mentality of the way we race is there. I truly believe that we're the favorites to win this thing.
“That's important to me to feel that way. I feel like I have real things to back that up, which is good.”
When Logano’s team owner, Roger Penske, shuffled the crew chief deck prior to the start of the 2020 season, there was uncertainty surrounding the three Cup teams. But that didn’t last long for the No. 22 squad after the pairing of Logano and Paul Wolfe resulted in two wins—Las Vegas and Phoenix—in the first four races. Then the pandemic hit.
“I would say we've come a long way, and we have a long ways to go,” Logano said of his relationship with Wolfe. “That makes me excited about what the future is. When I think about where we started the season when we had practice, we came out of the gates, won a couple of races, won a Duel (at Daytona). Life is great, this is good.
“COVID comes along. We start going through quite the lull. We're trying to figure out a direction of what we need to do with our race car to be faster. Don't have practice to figure that out. It became a struggle and challenge to find out where we needed to be.”
As NASCAR went into quarantine mode in March due to the coronavirus, the brakes went on any team-building exercises that Logano used to build rapport with his new squad. The 30-year-old racer threw his efforts behind the Joey Logano Foundation’s Convoy of Hope for the food insecure. He focused on students around the Charlotte area who relied on meals at school for the bulk of their nourishment.
When the sport returned to action in May, the dynamic changed to reflect the necessary precautions for the times. Practice was scratched, qualifying eliminated. Drivers were limited to travel between their motor coaches and the race car. Any opportunity for Logano to bond with his team disappeared.
“Practice is not just practice working on the car,” Logano said. “It strikes so many very good conversations that need to happen, to get to know each other, to know what I want in the car. Team dinners, team outings, those are so important for me to get to know my team, know the guys that are working on my car.
“That's one of the things that's frustrated me about this whole thing, is that you feel like your hands are tied. You can't do the things that made me very successful in the past, especially with a new team. That made it even harder. I feel like over time we've really connected.”
After a rough patch in June, the No. 22 team started to rebound in July and August. But there was no greater victory than at Kansas which vaulted Logano into the Championship 4.
“We went from in the summer months searching for a direction to make our car faster, to being in contention to win,” Logano said. “Now in my eyes, like I said in 2018, feeling like you're the favorites by winning the first race in the third round. I honestly feel that way again.
“Interesting how it has kind of lining up to be the same. Hopefully, it lines up to be the same all the way to the end. A lot of things can happen between now and then. I like our chances. I like where we're at. We'll go out there to Phoenix and give it a shot.”
Logano and Wolfe are the only pairing of driver and crew chief who have each won a Cup title. Wolfe won with Brad Keselowski in 2012. Logano followed with crew chief Todd Gordon six years later.
“Any time you've been in these situations before, you know how to prepare for them,” Logano said. “It's my fourth time, I know what's coming my way. Yes, it's at a new track, but I know what the week is like going into it, I know how to prepare for it. Same thing for Paul, right? Paul has been in the Championship 4 before. He's won a championship with the other Playoff format. But he's been there in high‑pressure moments. He knows how to prepare for it.
“We've had three weeks to think about it, be ready for it. With those things, I feel more confident than ever.”
That hasn’t always been the case for Logano. When NASCAR introduced this Playoff format in 2014, Logano was among a final four including Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.
“I remember crapping my pants about how nervous I was,” Logano said. “If I'm being honest, I was very nervous. I had everything on the line for the first time. I didn't know if I'd ever get back into the Championship 4 again. You didn't want to blow the opportunity, right? You just wanted to make sure you made the most of it.
“Now going through it before, knowing how to prepare for what's coming ahead of you, that battle ahead of you, knowing you succeeded before in the championship round, it really gives you some confidence to go out there and do your job.”
And as Logano emphasized, confidence is “everything.” It’s why the team has embraced the ‘believe’ philosophy and used it as their rally cry in the postseason.
“Believing in yourself, right, our tagline the whole time since this Playoff started,” Logano said. “I came up with a list of six or seven things I thought were the most important things for a team to be able to rally behind. I brought that list to Paul. I said, ‘What is the most important thing on this list to you that makes a great team?’
“He saw the word 'believe'. He said that's the biggest thing. We got to believe in each other, we got to believe in ourselves, we got to believe we can win, we've got to believe we're the best. Be humble to work and find gains, but believe in us.
“That to me is what has been able to really been that thing that kind of powers us forward. Believing is confidence, right? It's the same thing.”