Making the Grade: A Preview of the Probable 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Top 12 (Part 1 of 12)
A new year has arrived and with it comes hopes and promises looking to be fulfilled and realized for everyone around the world. In the world of NASCAR, those who had success in the previous season hope to replicate or better their performances with wins and consistent top finishes. Others are breaking in with their new teams, establishing themselves with their surroundings but racing with the same goal as their counterparts: to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
For Joey Logano, it's not only a new year and season, but it's a time of the biggest opportunity thus far in his young NASCAR racing career. After four campaigns with the Joe Gibbs' No. 20 entry, the pride of Middletown, CT will embark in his new chapter with Roger Penske's organization and the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Fusion.
Together, both look to make the 22 team have its most prolific but controversial-free season since 2008, when Ryan Newman piloted the then No. 12 Alltel ride to a Daytona 500 victory. Kurt Busch didn't exactly end his tenure with Penske on good terms, imploding down the stretch much like Nicolas Cage's characters often do in about every movie that he's starred in. As for A.J. Allmendinger last year, it was a case of inconsistency and the suspension last summer that cost him his dream ride.
Logano got some seat time with his new car and some testing sessions with his new crew last month at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Not only was it two days that was a test drive with his team, it was his first, albeit unofficial, on-track appearance working with teammate and defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski. A potent combination with youth and aggression blended together, Penske Racing has a pair of aces up its sleeves to triumph for the long-haul.
Keselowski is the teammate that could mold Logano into the cunning and calculative driver that some critics feel the youngest can transition into, as the former was also somewhat "rough around the edges" when he entered the sport via the Camping World Truck Series in 2006. While Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are two of the NASCAR's top talents capable of winning races by the plenty, they lack something that Logano's newest teammate has: a Cup championship.
New seems to be the constant element all across the stock car world, with the "Generation 6" car replacing the somewhat unpopular "Car of Tomorrow" model from 2007-'12. Although the top teams will prosper and succeed right off the bat, the uncertainties surrounding the new car as well as the new driver and team combinations across the board will create an interesting field for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship this coming year.
Despite Logano's limited success in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, he has two wins, with his most recent victory coming at Pocono Raceway last June. Also, the fifth-year driver is just 22 years old, hardly at an age to be considered a "grizzled veteran." The growing pain stage is still in effect, but that phase should certainly expedited with success as "Sliced Bread" will work with a veteran crew and the strong resources at Penske Racing.
During the final 10 races of 2012, Logano scored eight top-20 finishes, including four finishes of 11th or better. Surely, those numbers may not sound amazing, but considering that he was in a "lame duck" status, his numbers down the stretch were relatively "dece" for a driver who probably had a lot to consider as far as his future was concerned.
Aggressive, cunning, and outspoken, about the only aspects missing with Logano's game is a bit of timing (good timing of course), restrain, and the ability to attack and pick the right battles on the track. All of those can come with a good and encouraging crew chief as well as a pit crew that will adjust the car to Logano's liking on race day. Like most younger racers, his frustration can sometimes get the best of him, but that will tone down once he matures with experiences on the track as well as with some veteran, strong leadership around him.
If Logano can score a 17th place finish in the points race last year with the distractions that surrounded him, watch for this exciting young driver to have a breakthrough career season in 2013 (think Jeremy Mayfield in 1998). Watch for Joseph Thomas Logano to bring in two wins and place 12th in this year's points race, having a Martin Truex, Jr.-like year, except with of course, checkered flags.