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Friday, December 14, 2012
Keselowski, Logano primed for '13

By David Newton
ESPN.com

CONCORD, N.C. -- The Sprint Cup garage was shutting down as a cold, steady rain pelted Charlotte Motor Speedway. There were no crew chiefs or engineers probing their drivers for that last bit of information before losing them for the Christmas holidays.

Most were long gone.

But there were reigning champion Brad Keselowski and new Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano by themselves, debriefing about what they liked and didn't like about the new car during their last run, thinking outside the box for ways to pick up more speed.

Wednesday afternoon's test of NASCAR's new "Gen 6" car had been called for more than half an hour, but NASCAR's new "Gen Y" duo remained hard at work getting to know each other.

"The best way I can break in Joey is to get him one of those championship glasses and take him out for night," said Keselowski, jokingly referring to the giant pilsner beer glass he admittedly got a buzz from during a live interview on ESPN's "SportsCenter" after winning the title.

Keselowski & Logano 1
Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano hope to push Penske Racing -- and each other -- into championship contention.

"I think he'd really enjoy that and I'd really enjoy it."

Keselowski laughed. Logano, 22, laughed even harder when told of the idea, revealing he's yet to have his first sip of beer.

"Coming from someone who never drinks, it wouldn't take much for me to free up," he said. "A mini-glass would put me 12 rounds up on the track bar."

It doesn't take much to see these two 20-somethings already have developed a strong bond. It's that chemistry that Logano hopes will make him a better driver and leader. Keselowski, 28, hopes will push him to even higher levels of excellence.

"You have to understand the goal of bringing Joey Logano to Penske Racing," said Keselowski, who handpicked the successor to AJ Allmendinger in the No. 22. "The goal is to have two cars that can run for a championship. I'm hoping he can push me to be better.

"I don't want to get stagnant. I've reached the highest pinnacle you can reach in this sport and don't want to fall off it."

Logano wants to reach the pinnacle that many believed he was destined for at the age of 15. Remember? That's when Mark Martin called him "the real deal" and said he was 100 percent positive "that he can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR."

Logano believes Keselowski can help him get there in a way that former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch couldn't. Nothing against them, but Logano is NASCAR's version of a gym rat. He wants to be around the shop and crew as much as possible.

Hamlin would just as soon be on the golf course or playing basketball as in the shop midweek. Busch spent most of his free time with his Nationwide Series team and wife.

"I don't have a life," Logano said with a laugh.

But he has a new teammate that shares his belief that the best way to lead, the best way to improve, is to be around your team as much as possible. Logano already has run into Keselowski at Penske Racing several times since the season ended last month.

"His work ethic and the way he is is very similar to me when it comes to being a race car driver," Logano said.

Such as?

"We're both kind of dorky and awkward," Logano said, again laughing. "So we've got that going for us."

He's right. If you watch Keselowski dribble a basketball it becomes painfully obvious why he chose to drive a car. Logano apparently isn't much better when it comes to stick-and-ball sports.

"Everyone would laugh if we had a basketball game against each other." Logano said. "It would be the funniest thing you've ever seen. I think I might have him beat, but I'm pretty bad."

Behind their quirky smiles, though, are two of the deepest thinkers in the garage. We've come to expect and respect it with Keselowski, who earned credibility by winning races and championships in the Nationwide and Cup series.

But it's there with Logano, too.

"I have a way of hiding it probably more because people see me smiling and laughing too much," Logano said. "But just because I'm smiling doesn't mean I'm not working."

Keselowski saw beyond the smile to understand that. It's a big reason he wanted the driver he once resented to be his teammate.

Yes, resented. As much as Logano and Keselowski are alike, they are different. Logano was born with a silver spoon in racing circles. He always had the best equipment and top sponsors. Winning came easy before he reached the Cup level.

Real easy.

"Nothing was a challenge," said Logano, who has only two Cup wins in four years. "I just got in the car and won. And it was easy."

Keselowski fought adversity. His family nearly went bankrupt to keep him in racing. When Logano was replacing then-two-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Cup car with Home Depot as his sponsor at the age of 18, Keselowski was driving in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports and begging for a Cup ride.

"Did I resent that for two or three years he got all the damn TV commercials and fame for being the next big thing? Maybe a little," Keselowski said. "Now, I don't feel that way."

That's because Keselowski sees in Logano somebody who wants to work just as hard as he does to improve, someone who is not spoiled.

"The more you're a student of the sport, it's gotta be good," Logano said.

Keselowski proved that. Logano learned that after realizing the Cup series was harder than he thought and after being humbled by the reality that JGR wanted Matt Kenseth in the No. 20 instead of him next season.

Now they both respect each other in a way they probably couldn't have imagined four years ago. Logano already has benefited from their relationship, getting to make personnel decisions because of the trust team owner Roger Penske found was warranted in the strong-willed Keselowski three years ago.

Joey Logano
Joey Logano won one Sprint Cup race in 2012, but he celebrated in Victory Lane nine times in the Nationwide Series.

"They respect me coming right into it," Logano said. "You talk to Roger, he says, 'I don't see you and Brad being any different, you're starting from the same level and you go from there.' That's huge."

It gives Logano a feeling of confidence he never fully had at JGR.

"There's no, 'Oh, he had to do this when he was younger,' " Logano said. "That changed a lot from three years ago. All that old history is gone. I went from a kid to a man. So now you don't have that."

Keselowski admits there already are ways Logano is better than him. That says a lot about a person coming off a title.

"He has the ability to unload at a place like this and just instantly be fast, and that's not my style," Keselowski said of CMS. "It's something that I would like to add to my arsenal, because there are times where that's really, really helpful.

"There is a whole list, and I don't want to get into all of them, because some of them are, going back to proprietary, something that Joey has worked very hard on."

That's another way Logano and Keselowski are similar. Ask Logano specifics on ways his new teammate does things that will make him a better driver, he responds, "Can't tell you."

Proprietary, you know.

Those are serious things that both prefer to keep between themselves. But as serious as they are about being good teammates and championship contenders, they share an innate ability to keep what they do in perspective.

"Shoot, look at what we're doing," Logano said. "We're getting a paycheck for driving race cars. That's sick.

"But if you want to do it for a while, you've got to work at it."

That's why they remained at the track talking with nobody else involved. That's why Logano can't wait to spend time brainstorming with Keselowski on race weekends in ways he seldom did with his former teammates.

"Joey is an elite talent in this sport, and if we can work together, then we will both be better," Keselowski said. "I would rather finish second to him next year in every race and even the championship than to rest on my laurels, not get any better, and run fifth, 10th, 15th, 17th -- whatever it might be -- and beat him.

"It's that spirit that is gonna drive us to be the best we can."

Speaking of spirits, Keselowski still hasn't given up on spending quality time with Logano and a giant pilsner beer glass.

"One way to find out," he said when Logano reiterated it wouldn't take much beer to free him up.

Stay tuned on how that debriefing ends.