Penske Racing has announced the signing of Joey Logano as the new driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil NASCAR Sprint Cup car for the 2013 season.
The news came just hours after Logano's current Cup team Joe Gibbs Racing confirmed the long-expected news that they had signed Matt Kenseth to join the team, and that Logano would be leaving the squad after the end of the current season. (See separate story
"Joey Logano is a very talented driver who has already achieved a lot of success at a young age," said Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing. "Joey is a great fit for our organization, and we look forward to building on his success as he takes his place behind the wheel of the #22."
Logano leaves JGR after four years with the team. He'd been offered a Nationwide drive and a partial Cup season by the team in 2013 with a view to rejoining a full-time four-car JGR line-up in 2014, but instead opted to accept the deal offered by Penske.
"I am very excited to join Penske Racing and begin the next phase of my career," said Logano. "I am looking forward to the opportunity, as it will be an honour to drive for Roger Penske and race for wins and championships.
"I am also proud to represent Shell-Pennzoil as they are a respected global brand that does a great job of activating in the sport on and off the track," he added.
“We welcome Joey Logano to the Shell-Pennzoil team, and we know he will do a great job representing our brands and Penske Racing in 2013 and beyond," responded the president of Shell Lubricants Americas, Lisa Davis.
Shell and Penske will both be please if Logano can bring some stability to the #22 team in 2013, after what's proved to be an unpleasant and unsettling 18 months with began with a tempestuous final season in the car for Kurt Busch which led to a "mutual agreement" between the team and driver to terminate their relationship at the end of last season.
Penske signed AJ Allmendinger from Richard Petty Motorsports as a replacement, only to have the driver test positive for a stimulant in a random drugs test over the summer. That meant he was suspended from all NASCAR competition indefinitely, and was subsequently fired by Penske at the start of August.
Sam Hornish Jr. stepped in behind the wheel of the #22 with just six hours' notice when the suspension was originally handed out, and he has been driving the car since then combining it with his full-time Nationwide Series campaign for Penske. He'd been hoping to get the #22 Cup car on a permanent basis, but the signing of Logano announced on Tuesday dashed that chance.
There was no mention of Hornish in the press release announcing Logano's signing, and his future with Penske in either Cup or Nationwide in 2013 is unclear. However, in an interview with USA Today
published before the news of Logano's signing, team owner Roger Penske is quoted as saying: "At the end of the day, no matter how we end up, Sam's going to have a ride with us in 2013."
Logano enjoyed early success with JGR after joining the team in 2009, becoming the youngest winner in Cup competition at the age of 19 in 2009, the year he was names the series' rookie of the year. However, he's widely seen as not having lived up to that early promise in the time since then and has failed to make the Chase in any of his seasons with the team.
Logano is currently in 18th position in the Sprint Cup standings and will again miss out on the Chase cut-off despite winning a race at Pocono mid-season..
However, his current boss JD Gibbs said that there was no prospect of releasing Logano early from his current contract, so Penske will continue to need to rely on Hornish or another stand-in driver for the remaining 11 races of the season, which ends at Homestead on November 18.
Joe Gibbs himself, the owner of JGR, said that the team had worked hard to keep hold of Logano. "We tried a little bit of everything," he said, talking of attempts to build a four-car line-up as soon as next season. "Nothing clicked ... He had a chance to have other opportunities, I think he felt like one of those would be better.
"We had so much invested in him, and he's so young, and you know he's going to blossom and wind up having a great career. It's sad to think that we won't be a part of that," he said.
Logano will also clearly be missed by his current JGR team mates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
"I love Joey to death, I think he's one of the best and he's one of the hardest working drivers out there," said Busch. "I wish Joey would stay, but obviously if there's something better out there for him, he's got to do what's best for him."
"He's got a good opportunity," added Hamlin. "I think he's making a lateral move, and so I think he's as optimistic as anyone."
Logano will be getting a new team mate at Penske in the form of Brad Keselowski, who has been one of the break-out drivers in Cup racing in the last couple of years, having made the Chase on a wildcard in 2011 and by being in the top ten in 2012.