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Logano makes believers out of others, and self

NASCAR.com

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Joey Logano, eighth in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series points standings and one step away from a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, listens to the question.

He does not answer immediately.

At 23 years old, Logano is a three-time winner in the Cup Series. He's paid well for his ability to push a stock car to the edge.

His team is a mix of veterans and younger players, led by crew chief Todd Gordon. His employer, team owner Roger Penske, is one of the most successful and respected businessmen in racing.

Unless something catastrophic occurs in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Logano will qualify for his first appearance in the series' 10-race, championship-deciding playoff.

He's not surprised to be in this position ("I was convinced. One hundred percent," Logano says of preseason expectations), and credits time spent at the shop in the offseason, time spent with Gordon and teammate Brad Keselowski, as well as numerous conversations with Penske as the reason.

"I didn't have the feeling that I had this year ever before," Logano says in the quiet of the motorhome lot outside RIR.

He arrived amid much fanfare back in 2009, a kid still stair-stepping his way up through the ranks when he was suddenly handed the keys to a championship-winning car at Joe Gibbs Racing.

He was 18.

After two wins in four years and a best points finish of 16th, Logano and JGR went their separate ways. Some blamed JGR officials for putting him in the car before he was ready. Some simply said Logano didn't have the talent to make it at the top.

Maybe it was as simple as that -- one reason, and one reason only. That's rarely the case, though.

Penske had an opening. And Logano soon had a new ride.

The question lingers. That "feeling" that he spoke of, was it maturity?

"I feel like I changed as soon as I walked into Penske Racing," he said. "I feel like I was a different person from then on.

"Todd said ? it's like moving out of your parents' house and going off to college. You change. It's kind of weird to say but you're with this one company for seven years, since you were 17, so it's kind of like your parents' house. Then you move out and you're on your own. When you're on your own, you better pick it up a notch. You better find something."

So Logano did. He "hit the reset button," he said.

"Here's everything I've learned as a person. This is my opportunity to show what I've got. It possibly could have been my last, you know, a great opportunity with a great team."

At Penske, he wasn't seen as "the little guy, the little kid that started when you were 15 years old. You're looked at as a man and you're respected a lot more for that reason. I can take that and run with it. So I was able to do that."

Series champion Keselowski, still clinging to an outside shot at returning to the Chase to defend his title, said confidence has been the biggest difference for Logano this season.

Based on his teammate's recent efforts, which include six consecutive top-10 finishes and one win, Logano "would be my favorite to win the championship," Keselowski said.

"He's definitely got the momentum. His team has got things going for them in so many different directions. There's a lot of confidence that comes with that."

Those on the outside still may see him as just a kid, but inside the garage Logano said he has sensed a change this year. That it's taken until now, he said, "is my fault.

"I showed them that I've basically grown up. And then when you run well ?"

Others race him a little differently; his voice carries a little more weight. "You're a bit more accepted," he said.

He still has something to prove. No different than when he was tabbed to drive the No. 20 at JGR.

"I couldn't do it. I don't know why," he said. "I just couldn't.

"I always feel like I have something to prove. Not just to everyone else, but to myself. Not to you or this motorhome lot or fans in the stands. I want to prove it to myself that I've got what it takes."

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