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Joey Logano was a phenom, then a disappointment, now he’s on the brink of NASCAR title

Joey Logano thought he was done with years like 2017.

His move from Joe Gibbs Racing to Team Penske ahead of the 2014 had seemingly salvaged the one-time phenom’s career. He never qualified for the postseason during his four years with Joe Gibbs racing, but his move to Penske seemed to unlock his potential.

He finished sixth in the eighth standings in 2013, then reached the Championship 4 for the first time in 2014. In 2015, he slipped back to sixth before finishing as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runner up in 2016. Seven years after becoming the youngest driver to win on the NASCAR Cup Series, Logano was on the brink of fulfilling all the promise arrived with.

Then it all fell apart again. By the middle of the 2017 season, Logan was finishing outside the top 20 almost as often as he was cracking the top 10. For the first time since joining Penske, Logano missed the postseason altogether.

“I think a lot of times you start taking things for granted in life,” Logano said earlier this week, “but God has a way of giving you a little reset and reminding you where you really stand.”

A year later, Logano has once again clawed his way back. The 28-year-old qualified for the Round of 8 – NASCAR’s semifinal – and at his first opportunity, he became the first driver to clinch a spot in the Championship 4.

Logano led 309 laps Sunday in Ridgeway, Va., on his way to a win at the First Data 500. The win means when he arrives in Homestead in November, Logano will be racing with a chance to hoist the championship trophy for the first time. Given his past success at Homestead-Miami Speedway, this could finally be the year everything comes together for one of the most hyped drivers in NASCAR history.

The early attention made him loathed, but it was certainly deserved. Logano was only 19 when he won the 2009 Lenox Industrial Tools 301 to become the youngest winner in the history of the Cup Series.

This was basically what everyone expected as Logano rose through the ranks on his way to debuting as an 18-year-old. When Logano was 15, veteran driver Mark Martin predicted the teenager “can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR.” When Logano was 16, fellow New England driver Randy LaJoie dubbed Logano, “Sliced Bread,” as in, “the best thing since sliced bread.”

For a subset of NASCAR fans and drivers, it made Logano’s steady unraveling with Joe Gibbs Racing a perverse joy.

Logano only won once more for Joe Gibbs following his record-setting initial victory. By the end of 2012, higher-ups within Gibbs were openly discussing Logano’s uncertain future with the team. The organization wanted to send Logano back to the minors. Last season couldn’t be the lowest moment of Logano’s career – it has to be, as he puts it, “losing my job.”

Logano was only 23.

“Usually the moments that are the most difficult you learn the most about your race team and the most growth really happens,” Logano said, “so I don’t ever have any regrets.”

Now Logano is one race away from perhaps capping his greatest comeback move yet. If he wins the Ford EcoBoost 400 – or finishes ahead of the three other Championship 4 drivers – Logano will finally reach the heights believers like Martin, LaJoie and even Gibbs envisioned for him.

With two more races until he’ll wrap up the season in South Florida, Logano can fully focus on optimizing his car and his team for the hot track at Homestead-Miami. More than a decade after being anointed as NASCAR’s next perennial champion, Logano is closer than ever to winning his first.

“It was a really good comeback. To get back to that Championship 4 again after last year was a big deal for us, so we’re ready to make the most of it this time,” Logano said. “Hopefully the third time’s the charm.”

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Joey Logano is interviewed during Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

Joey Logano is interviewed during Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

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