Joey Logano is smarter, more mature, more experienced and this season also more confident.

That's something Logano hasn't always had in his brief NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.

"He needs that," Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said. "We forget how young he is and what little time he had before running in this sport. That really bodes well for our future.

"He's got a little swagger now, a little more confidence. I think that's great."

Logano will turn 21 years old in May and was just 19 when he won his first Cup race, a rain-shortened event at New Hampshire in the 2009 season.

He finished 20th in points that year and seemed to struggle during the first half of the 2010 season. But late in the year he put together a string of five consecutive finishes of seventh or better that left him 16th in the series standings.

The strong stretch run also left him feeling confident he can contend for a spot in this season's Chase for the Cup.

"We definitely want to be in the Chase, and I think we are a Chase-caliber team now," Logano said during last week's Sprint NASCAR Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

"I think we showed it at the end of last year for sure that we are capable of doing it. We just have to make the least amount of mistakes possible."

The 2010 season was a large steppingstone for Logano, both on the track and in his relationships with his competitors.

He got in public run-ins with other drivers, including Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman. And he made headlines when he claimed Harvick's wife, DeLana, "wears the firesuit in that family."

By late in the season, Logano was running better than several of the drivers in the Chase and turning the heads of fans and those in the garage.

"I feel like I've been here long enough that I feel like one of the guys or whatever you want to say," Logano said. "Yet, you also don't want to be pushed around.

"We showed at the end of the year what we are capable of."

Logano said it was difficult to point to one specific thing that improved his performance at the end of 2010, but he is certain his relationship with crew chief Greg Zipadelli is the best it's ever been.

"We're getting along really well, and our chemistry is great," Logano said. "We've figured out - finally - what makes each other's wheel turn. We're two very different people but we have one common goal."

Gibbs said he wasn't surprised it would take time for the relationship between Zipadelli and Logano to develop.

"Zippy spent a lot of time with us, but it was all with Tony [Stewart]. It was a different dynamic," Gibbs said. "Tony didn't need the things Joey needed.

"Zippy and Tony had some knock-down, drag-out [fights] like two brothers going at it. You can't do that with Joey. Zippy needed to find out what Joey was about.

"As Joey has developed, so has their relationship. I'm excited about their potential this season."