November 30, 2018 | By Lee Spencer

People make the difference for Team Penske

Photo by PHOTO CREDIT: David Becker/Getty Images

Joey Logano kept his composure during the Champion’s speech at the NASCAR Awards celebration on Thursday night—until it came to acknowledging the effort that brought him to the stage at the Wynn.

He recalled the go-kart Santa brought to his Middletown, Conn., home when he was five years old and how that instilled the dream of becoming a race car driver.

Nearly 23 years later, Logano reached the pinnacle of stock car racing.

“It’s crazy,” Logano said. “To think that just wanting to be a race car driver ever since you were a little kid, wanting to just go home every day and drive in the yard. I would just drive by myself, wanting to make laps. I made a little race track from making so many laps—it kind of wore a track in the backyard, and the neighbors yard, and their sprinklers, and their mailboxes.

“But that’s what I loved to do. I’m just lucky to live out my dream and finally get to the top. It’s so cool.”

Although Logano showed great prowess in the lower ranks of NASCAR, he wasn’t an overnight sensation at the Cup level. His life—and career—changed dramatically once he was recruited by Roger Penske.

“It’s incredible to just drive for him,” Logano said. “And for it to be one of his best seasons ever, there’s just so much that goes into what he does. It doesn’t just happen. It may look like everything that Roger Penske touches turns into gold, but it’s that way because of the work and the people he surrounds himself with. That’s why it looks like that. I just feel special enough to get to drive those race cars.”

Under the direction of crew chief Todd Gordon, Logano has contributed 20 wins, including the 2015 Daytona 500, since he came to Team Penske. On Nov. 18, he delivered the second Cup championship to Penske in what was a remarkable year for the Captain.

“As we started in Daytona and started the 24 Hours, then got into IndyCar and to see this whole championship unfold over 38 weekends and to culminate here in Las Vegas—sitting up on the stage there with Joey, all the sponsors and Ford Motor Company and my wife Kathy, that he hangs around with me for over 45 years is amazing,” Penske said.

“It’s just hard to believe. We’re going to be back after it next year. Each year, we set the bar a little bit higher, and I think that’s what makes us so good.”

Will Power picked up the Captain’s 17th Indy 500 win in May. Power and Josef Newgarden combined for a six-win season in IndyCar. Penske’s NASCAR effort amassed seven NASCAR Cup wins—including the company’s first Brickyard 400 and second Southern 500. Brad Keselowski’s Las Vegas victory in September marked Penske’s 500th win in racing.

After Logano secured the Cup title, Penske, 81, jetted off to Europe, came back to the States for Thanksgiving and then left for Australia to watch Scott McLaughlin win the V8 Supercars Championship at the Newcastle Street Circuit in Australia. Penske would like to see McLaughlin try his hand at NASCAR in the future. But it’s hard to argue with the current Team Penske roster.

“Part of the success is what we call the human capital,” Penske said. “It’s the people. We have to provide the driver with the best race car. To me, looking down the road, guys like (Ryan) Blaney—even Helio (Castroneves) back in the early days of the IndyCar side and Rick Mears. It’s those guys that deliver.”

Penske will be inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. After 35 years, 111 Cup wins, 68 Xfinity Series wins and three driver titles between the tours, it’s an accolade that’s overdue. But Penske doesn't want to be recognized as just a team owner. He would rather just be one of the guys. That was evident on Thursday night as he and Kathy shared a slice of pizza with Gordon and his wife backstage at the ceremony before the post-race party began.

“We’re a family,” Penske added. “You think about the team and the people. They want to work here. If you look at the number of people in our organization, I think over 200 have been with us for over 10 years—that’s the bedrock. That’s the championship capability that we have within the team.

“When we go to Indianapolis each year, we have sometimes more than 600 years of experience in the pits. To me, that’s the continuity and that makes all the difference.”

And Penske is just getting started with Logano, 28, who extended his contract to drive the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford to beyond 2022.

“He’s a great young man,” Penske said. “On the track he’s fierce, he’s tough and he’s a winner. I think that makes a huge difference. I can’t tell you how proud I am to have him on our team.

“This, tonight for him, is the start of many championships that he can have throughout his career. For the sponsors—and especially for Ford Motor Company after 14 years trying to get this championship, that’s a long time.

“We owe them a lot, the whole team, and certainly when you think about Roush Yates and Doug Yates, and his dad, did so much on the engine side. It’s an amazing time for me.”


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