Joey Logano and the No. 22 Ford Mustang’s stats were mediocre at best: two poles during the 36-race season, a lone early-season victory at Atlanta, 10 other top-5s, and only seven other top-10s.
The humbling 12th in points was only the second time in 11 years with Team Penske that Logano didn’t finish among the top-10.
He was eliminated from the 16-driver Playoffs after the first round, the first time a defending champion hasn’t gotten to Round 2.
Joey Logano didn’t mince words when asked about last year’s one-victory, 12th-place finish in NASCAR’s final Cup Series standings: “It was a failure,” he said.
No hesitating. No hemming or hawing. No excuses. Nothing but the unvarnished truth: “It was a failure.”
That harsh assessment must have stung the two-time (2018 and 2023) NASCAR champion, 32-time Cup race winner, and cinch Hall of Famer for Ford Performance and team owner Roger Penske. Even so, he faced up to it.
“It’s not the kind of season we expected,” Logano acknowledged at a recent press event. “Honestly, anything less than the championship is a failure. That’s our one and only goal. If you set your goals really high, they’re harder to achieve. But if you set your goals to be, say, sixth, then I honestly believe the best you’ll ever be is sixth. That’s the way we work.
“Still, there were a lot of things we did pretty well. Our execution was great. That’s the strength of this team, the way we execute at races. But we lacked a little in the speed department and we never could find it. There were a lot of lessons learned and a lot of tough moments. The season wasn’t good, but it was okay.”
The No. 22 Ford Mustang’s stats were mediocre at best: two poles during the 36-race season, a lone early-season victory at Atlanta (after starting from the pole), 10 other top-5s, and only seven other top-10s. The humbling 12th in points was only the second time in 11 years with Team Penske that Logano didn’t finish among the top-10. He was eliminated from the 16-driver Playoffs after the first round, the first time a defending champion hasn’t gotten to Round 2.
FYI: Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace didn’t win last year, yet still beat Logano in points. It also should be noted that Ryan Blaney—in his sixth year as Logano’s teammate—won three races and the ’23 championship, the second straight and fourth overall for team owner Roger Penske. Of 9,300 possible laps, Logano led only 308, most of them (140) at Atlanta in March. He didn’t lead a lap in 23 races, including none in nine of the year’s last 10.
It's clear that Logano and crew chief Paul Wolfe suffered from what could be called “consistent inconsistency.” Only once did they have consecutive top-5s: thirds at St. Louis and Sonoma in June. Only three times did they have consecutive top-10s: Daytona Beach (second) and Fontana (10th) in February, then Watkins Glen (10th) and Daytona Beach (fifth) in August, and Homestead (eighth) and Martinsville (fifth) in October.
They had eight finishes between 11th and 19th, four more in the 20s, and a disheartening seven in the 30s. It seemed that every good weekend was followed by a series of mediocre-to-bad ones. After a fifth at Kansas in September, for example, they finished 34th at Bristol, 21st at Fort Worth, and 24th at Talladega. In keeping with the “consistent inconsistency” theme, Logano and Wolfe followed those struggles with a fifth on the Charlotte Roval.
The search for a cure was never-ending. “We review our performances throughout the season, but there’s no magical wand to fix everything,” Logano said. “And as the sport evolves, you can’t go back too far because things change so quickly. What we did at second Phoenix (in November’s championship race) was completely different from what we’d done in the first Phoenix race (in March). It’s a slow process when you get behind. Mostly, we asked ourselves, ‘how do we maximize the potential in the car?’ ”
Jefferson Hodges, manager of Team Penske’s stock car division, said Logano often tried to manufacture speed that simply wasn’t there. That extra personal effort, he suggested, led to uncharacteristic mistakes that only made matters worse. “Joey doesn’t want to accept second to anybody,” he said. “He never has and he never will. But we just couldn’t find a way to make him comfortable with what we had for him to drive.
“There came a time in the fall when we had to realize that Ryan was in a better championship position than Joey. So, just like we’d done for Joey in 2022, we turned some of our focus on Ryan’s car. We needed to put everything on the line for the 12 car; everybody had to get on the same page for Ryan.”
Ford’s Mustang won only eight races last year: Blaney and Chris Buescher from Roush-Fenway-Keselowski each won three times; Logano and Michael McDowell (Front Row Racing) each won once. Chevrolet won half of the 36 races and Toyotas won 10. Ford (with Blaney) won the drivers’ and owners’ championships, but Chevrolet won its third consecutive manufacturers’ championship.
As usual, Logano is optimistic things will be improved this year. Ford will officially unveil its new Dark Horse model in Sunday’s Daytona 500, a race Logano won in 2015 with Wolfe and Team Penske.
“The new Mustang looks like it’ll be better,” he said. (Weeks later, in the Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles, he finished behind Toyota driver Denny Hamlin, Chevy driver Kyle Busch, and fellow Ford driver Blaney). “We think the aero will be better on this new car. A lot of things look good on paper. There’ll be a different learning curve, but we think we’ll be in good shape.”
After last year, it would seem, almost anything would be better.