Time is running out for "Sliced Bread."
Joey Logano ought to be in desperation win mode right now. If he fails to earn a second win in the next five races, "JoLo" is certain to miss the Chase for the fourth consecutive year.
And if he can't make the Chase, No. 20 car sponsor Home Depot is likely to request a new driver for the 2013 season. The 22-year-old's contract is up at the end of the year and without a major improvement on the track (such as Brad Keselowski engineered late last summer), Logano's time with Joe Gibbs Racing could be up.
Sure, Logano has a win this year, his first since his rookie year of 2009. And this time around, it was no rain-shortened affair. He earned it with a great last-lap pass of Mark Martin at Pocono.
But one win is far from enough to keep an under-performing driver in a prime ride, as David Ragan found out last season. Chase appearances are what really matter, especially for young drivers without a long history of success at NASCAR's highest level. Make the Chase, and you're legitimized in a way that a win here or there just doesn't quite accomplish. (David Reutimann, anyone?)
Compounding Logano's problem is the presence of a couple of high-profile free agents on the Silly Season scene--former champions, no less, in the form of the squeaky-clean Matt Kenseth and the highly talented but temperamental (to put it kindly) Kurt Busch.
Competing with those two for rides would be a tough proposition, and additional names as Elliott Sadler, who's having a monster year in the Nationwide Series, into the mix just makes it more of an uphill battle for the once-promising driver.
Luckily for Logano, assuming he's out of the No. 20 car at the end of the year, there's at least one other good ride open in the No. 22 car of Penske Racing. Another possibility could be a fourth car at JGR, although I wouldn't like his long-term future with either the team or the sport in that scenario. RCR might also expand to a fourth car for the third time in recent years, and there could be other options as well.
Logano's best plan of attack, however, is simple: win races, make the Chase, and try to break out in a way that will guarantee the youngster a top ride no matter what happens with Home Depot and the No. 20 car.
Could he do it? It's certainly possible. But I don't see him suddenly figuring things out after years of mediocrity in championship-level equipment.
Perhaps the best thing for Logano would be to take a step back and drive exclusively in the Nationwide Series for a couple of years to get his bearings and confidence back.
Logano hasn't done as well in the NNS since the new car was introduced, but in the right equipment he could flourish in an attempt to prove his chops, with the eventual goal of truly earning a ride in the Sprint Cup Series.
It wouldn't be fun, and it wouldn't be an easy thing to do, but after suffering from the effects of being brought up to prime time without sufficient preparation, it might be the only way for Logano to ever fulfill his considerable potential.