Joey Logano fitting right in with Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing
CONCORD, N.C. -- Instead of rushing back to their interrupted offseason, new teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski huddled more than 25 minutes after the first of a two-day test session last week.
They debriefed -- with each other, with crew members, with engineers.
When they weren't in their 2013 Ford Fusions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, they often were together, learning their preferences in a car and how they can help one another go faster. Logano liked all this time to talk, and he admits it was different from his days at Joe Gibbs Racing. That doesn't mean what JGR's teams do is wrong, but just that there's more than one way to approach situations, he noted.
"I think the more communication the better," Logano said, in his new hauler where he and Keselowski, the defending series champion, stood alone discussing their cars earlier in the day. "I think you need to have all those lines open as much as you can."
This paring could raise Logano's status in the sport, and possibly help Keselowski and Penske Racing maintain their spot atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Although he's already a four-year veteran in the Sprint Cup Series, Logano is only 22 years old and has much untapped potential. His stay at Joe Gibbs Racing provided the knowledge he needed -- much like college does for many -- and now he embarks on his racing master's program with Keselowski as an instructor.
"Brad is a thinker," Logano said. "He's so outside the box. It gives you a different perspective driving a race car."
Logano saw some of Keselowski's secrets in his first test with him, especially when they ran in two 15-lap sessions with other cars. It was a mini-race to see how the new cars would react in a small group. Those sessions helped Logano understand why Keselowski had his car set up in a much different way.
"It's good to have a teammate like that because ... it pushes you," Logano said. "Not just me but my whole team does that."
Logano couldn't always say that early in his career at Joe Gibbs Racing because he had so much to learn.
"Going up through the series as I was growing up, it was easy for me," he said. "Nothing was a challenge. So I didn't really work at it. I got in a car and drove and it was easy."
Signed at age 15, Logano was the first rookie to win the K&N Pro Series East championship (a feat Ryan Truex and Kyle Larson have duplicated). Logano's first pole in the Nationwide Series came in his second start, two weeks after he turned 18. His first Nationwide win came a week later. His first Cup win came in his 20th career start.
Success soon evaded him. His nickname "Sliced bread" -- as in being the best thing since sliced bread -- was no longer apropos.
"You've got to work at it," Logano said. "You've got to learn what to study, you've got to learn a lot of things."
He also had to learn to be a leader.
"[That] is exceptionally hard considering the age gap you have with most people you're working with," Logano said. "It's hard to lead someone that could be your dad. That's gotten easier for me. A lot of that comes from how you present yourself.
"Just being conscious of some of my actions, the way I say things, the way I treat people."
Keselowski, who's just six years older than Logano, quickly picked up on how to lead other men, including 75-year-old team owner Roger Penske.
"When he came in and said, 'Look, I want to help you build a championship team,' he looked me in the eye and shook my hand, and that's how we started," Penske said after Keselowski won the Cup title last month. "There's no question that he's delivered way above what both of us probably thought was possible when you look at the competition and what we have to deal with."
Keselowski became a key leader when Penske Racing parted ways with former champion Kurt Busch after the 2011 season.
"I said to him, "You're going to be the leader of this team,'" Penske said. "He hasn't missed a step. He's galvanized the team."
That's what the team will look for from Logano. He says he already has played a key role in personnel decisions. He can add much more. Keselowski said that Logano can help him improve even after a championship season.
"I feel like there are a lot of areas that I can improve and be better, and I think there are things Joey does right out of the gate that are better than what I do," Keselowski said.
"I think he has the ability to unload at a place like [a 1.5-mile track] and just instantly be fast and that's not my style. It's something that I would like to add to my arsenal because there are times where that's really, really helpful, so those are some of the things I look at. There is a whole list and I don't want to get into all of them because some of them are, going back to proprietary, something that Joey has worked very hard on and ... deserves the quiet dignity that goes with that success, but, either way, at the end of the day, I think that Joey is an elite talent in this sport and if we can work together that we will both be better."
They've even run into each other at the race shop in the last few weeks.
"The more you can be at the shop, the more you can do with your team, the more you study for a race coming up, the more you can debrief from the week, the more you're into it -- you can't tell me that's a bad thing," Logano said. "Being a student of the sport is not a bad thing."