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Article Highlights:

  • Joey Logano got off to a promising start but wasn’t the same after a scary early-season wreck at Talladega
  • Logano did win a race and make it to the final eight again in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs
  • Inconsistency over the final month of the regular season hindered the Team Penske veteran once the playoffs began

If he’d been playing baseball instead of driving in NASCAR this season, Kyle Larson would have been the easy pick as both the most valuable player and the player of the year. There’s a subtle difference, but Larson checked the boxes for both by joining Hendrick Motorsports to resume his career, dominating the Cup Series individually, and leading HMS to a memorable year overall.

At the other end of the scale, there should be a distinction between the worst and most disappointing seasons for a driver because, again, there is a difference. Certainly, many factors determine success or failure. But Cole Custer, Ryan Preece, Ryan Newman, Corey LaJoie, Anthony Alfredo, and Quin Hoff brought up the rear on the points list, and some had plenty of resources at their disposal.

Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Ford at Team Pensek, enters his car during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 29, 2021. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Not that they’d be fighting for the “honor,” but the label of worst season is a subject to explore another day. However, Newman’s 2020 season helps illustrate the difference between worst and most disappointing. In fact, it served as the template for why Joey Logano qualifies as the most disappointing driver of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Coming off a 15th-place showing in points the previous season, Newman held the lead at the 2020 Daytona 500 with the finish line in sight when Ryan Blaney got into his bumper. The result was a terrifying crash that sent Newman’s car upside down and crossing the line as an also-ran in a shower of sparks and flames. It took rescue workers 15 minutes to extricate Newman from the wreckage, but he left the hospital under his own power two days later.

Newman missed three races while recuperating, and then the pandemic placed the Cup Series on hiatus. When the season resumed, Newman was a non-entity in the Roush Fenway Facing No. 6 Ford. He posted just one more top-10 finish, and the disparity between his average start and finish was Ryan’s worst since 2012.

He placed 25th in points in the worst showing of his career. It wasn’t the worst season in the 2020 Cup Series field, just the most disappointing.

Fast-forward to Logano in 2021, which ended with deceptively solid numbers and some what-ifs. His season was the most disappointing in the sport because:

  • The 2018 series champion entered the year in his prime and coming off another trip to the Championship 4.
  • The No. 22 Ford’s season started strong and then went south.
  • Digging deeper, even Logano’s best moment was an anomaly.

Strikingly similar to Newman in 2020, Logano led entering the final lap at Daytona when disaster hit, and an eight-car mess left him in 12th place. Still, he responded by finishing second on the Daytona road course and again at Phoenix three weeks after that.

Then, Logano scored his one victory of the season on the gimmicky dirt track at Bristol, not a true test of skill. After sixth place at Martinsville and third at Richmond, he stood solidly in third place a third of the way through the regular season.

Unfortunately, Talladega became Logano’s real Ryan Newman moment. He got airborne on the superspeedway and flipped, nearly landing on top of Bubba Wallace’s car. It probably qualified as the wreck of the year, another “honor” that drivers don’t covet.

From that moment on, the season was a steady stream of disappointments despite four top-five performances over the next dozen starts. Early in the year, Logano led 25 or more laps in four separate races. After Talladega, he led a total of 129 laps over 26 races.

While the Bristol victory earned the Team Penske veteran a playoff spot, the last four races of the regular season saw him finish 22nd, 34th, 33rd, and 23rd to slip to ninth in points.

Six straight showings of 11th or better to open the playoffs translated to a transfer to the final eight, but Logano was in a perpetual state of having to play catch-up. When his engine gave out late at Texas Motor Speedway in the seventh playoff race, his hopes all but ended.

On paper, Logano placed eighth in points and logged 19 top-10 showings, both respectable. But he also finished on the lead lap just 26 times and was still racing at the finish in a career-low 31 races.

With better consistency, he could have gone to Phoenix as one of the four drivers still in the hunt. Thus, there’s no way Logano shouldn’t have been disappointed with the way everything played out after such a promising start to the year.

All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.


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