Is Joey Logano, newly minted victor of the Pocono 400 presented by #NASCAR, for real as a big-time Sprint Cup driver after proving his chops at the Tricky Triangle on Sunday?
Logano has been one of the most frustrating drivers of the last few seasons. His wealth of talent can be clearly seen at times, but inconsistencies have plagued the young driver. Some have accused owner Joe Gibbs of robbing the cradle to rush the prodigy dubbed "Sliced Bread" to NASCAR's biggest stage.
However, he may have finally turned the proverbial corner. And that's what we're here to discuss today: Does his second Cup win show Logano belongs at NASCAR's highest level and in the No. 20 Home Depot ride made famous in years past by Tony Stewart?
That’s the issue at stake in this episode of Bonus Points, a weekly feature in which Sports-at-Work writers Sam Salo and Luke Krmpotich debate a current issue in NASCAR, giving their takes on the way things ought to be. Sometimes, Sam and Luke will agree; other times, they may have slightly differing opinions; and on occasion, they'll be at each other's throats.
Each writer will also assign a "flag" value to his opinion on the question: checkered flag if it's a slam dunk, green flag if he's mostly convinced, yellow flag if it's a toss-up, red flag if he's pessimistic or black flag if he's dead set in opposition to the idea.
Luke: For much of his NASCAR career, Joey Logano has dominated the Nationwide Series while struggling against Cup competition. Thus, even while Logano hasn’t looked impressive against the Jimmie Johnson’s and Tony Stewart’s of the world, few have doubted his inherent ability to wrangle a stock car. There have been plenty who argued that team owner Joe Gibbs did his young prodigy a disservice by rushing him to NASCAR’s top level—this writer included. Does one victory validate Logano’s credentials as a deserving occupant of an elite-level Cup ride?
The answer depends on just how Logano achieved that victory. If it came in a rain-shortened event as did his first Cup victory, the answer would be no. But of course, that’s not how it happened at Pocono.
Logano was the best car throughout the entire weekend. He was fast in practice, won the pole (his first time as a Cup Series pole sitter), and led the most laps in the race (also his first time achieving that in Cup competition). To top it off, he beat a wily driver in Mark Martin by aggressively taking advantage of a slight bobble by the cagey veteran to take the lead with a few laps remaining.
Given the circumstances, I’m optimistic that Logano has turned the corner in his Cup career. He sits tied for 14th in the points, which is higher than he’s ever finished a season. In the thick of things in the battle for a Chase berth, Logano is also tied for the second Wild Card Chase spot with Ryan Newman. Another win or a string of good finishes could easily put him into Chase position.
And have I mentioned that Logano has won five times in the Nationwide Series this season, counting Saturday’s triumph at Michigan International Speedway? This debate is about the Cup side of things, of course, but the way he dominates the lower series can only help his confidence level.
In an about-face from my position a couple of months ago, I give Logano a green flag for immediate and long-term success in his Cup career.
Sam: Sunday's race 'round the three-cornered (and repaved) Pocono proved a good water-cooler topic on several fronts. Most notable of all was Joey Logano's orange blaze to victory lane. Channeling ghosts of Tony Stewarts past, Logano took the Home Depot machine to a skilled, clutch triumph over cagey veteran Mark Martin. The Cup series victory highlighted the recent burgeoning fortunes of young Logano, who has been slaying in the Nationwide series and rising in the Cup tour over the past two months.
Of course, speculation as to Joey's future with Joe Gibbs Racing, and how the win helped it, began right away...even in victory lane as a matter of fact. Now that Sliced Bread has won a Cup race without an assist from mother nature (rain, that is), does his future indeed look brighter and more secure?
In a word, yes. The great skill in Logano that Mark Martin almost prophesied about years ago is, in all probability, a legitimate fact. In regards to raw skill, Logano is good, probably "that good". Many think that if he can catch a groove in the Cup tour, he'll be a Chase contender, if not a championship contender. However, Logano's long-winded road to his first "unassisted" win has left most of that high thinking to guessing, not actual reality. It's his fourth full year in Cup, and it's been fairly rough sailing for sure.
With that said, the mixed bag of prognostications has now seen quite a ray of sunlight. The jury is still out about whether or not this is the first light of dawn, or the first step of a wobbly walk that may or may not see great success. If anything, Joey's win highlighted what another Bonus Points article earlier this year spoke to: on the one hand, it's apparent that Joey Logano has raw skill to match some of the best drivers in the world. On the other, Logano's rough baptism into the Cup series still lingers dangerously overhead.
Will Joey make it big? Is his future getting as bright as the one-tone car he drives? Perhaps, but that's a very positive perhaps. Sliced Bread gets a yellow flag of caution, but it's not all bad; he could well be coming around turn four to get a high-flying green flag quite soon. After all, he just got the checkers.
Final analysis: It’s a green flag for Logano, albeit with some hesitancy. One race doesn’t make or break a Sprint Cup career, but Logano is well-positioned for a long and successful career.