Expectations high for NASCAR’s Logano

  • By Mike Harris Associated Press
  • Wednesday, July 1, 2009 10:47am
  • SportsSports

Joe Gibbs didn’t expect his gamble to pay off so soon.

The car owner hedged when asked whether he expected Joey Logano to win a race during his rookie season in Sprint Cup.

“Do I need to tell the truth on that?” the former NFL coach replied, grinning.

The kid who started driving when he was 4 years old, wheeling a go-kart around the yard of his father’s hazardous waste disposal business in Portland, Conn., is now 19 and racing with the big boys in NASCAR.

On his journey to the Sprint Cup series, Logano has proved over and over that he is a phenom, winning races at every level.

Now he’s a winner in Cup, the youngest driver to reach Victory Lane in NASCAR’s 61-year history.

The first of what most observers believe will be many Cup wins came Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Logano won a rain-shortened race.

Crew chief Greg Zipadelli gambled on leaving the youngster on track as his gas ran low, and the rain came just in time, giving Logano the win in his 20th Cup start. At 19 years, 1 month and 4 days, he is more than a year younger than Kyle Busch was in 2005 when he won for the first time at 20 years, 4 months and 2 days.

But before Sunday, winning in Cup seemed a long time away for Logano, the most hyped young driver since Jeff Gordon came along in the early ’90s.

Overall, it hasn’t been a particularly good rookie season for Logano, who replaced two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart when he decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing to become an owner-driver.

Going into New Hampshire, Logano’s best finishes were a trio of ninths. Even with the win, he is 21st in the points heading into Saturday night’s race at Daytona.

But even when Logano has struggled with the adjustment to the Cup car this season, Gibbs has liked what he has seen.

“He continues to improve,” Gibbs said. “I think we all feel (that) at the end of the race he’s always better, running much harder, and I think that’s going to bode well for us as we go forward and come back to these places a second time (this season).”

The team owner was quick to point out that NASCAR’s ban on most testing this season has hurt Logano more than veteran the drivers.

“At the time (Logano got the ride in the 20), we thought we were going to test a bunch, and that got taken away from us,” Gibbs said. “So then you’re putting Joey out there with the best in the world, this is the best people in the world doing this, and he’s having to compete at places he’s never seen, really.”

Logano still seemed a little stunned by the win a few hours after the race officially ended as he sat in his No. 20 Toyota on pit road, the rain pouring down.

But a win is a win.

“I’m not going to give it back,” he said, laughing. “I think every win is a big win to me. It’s the mentality I’ve got. You want to win every race no matter where you’re at.”

Stewart, the series points leader with his new Stewart-Haas Racing team, said Logano should definitely not be embarrassed or reluctant to take credit for his first win, despite the circumstances.

“I said, ‘Ten years down the road nobody’s ever going to know how this win came.’ But, the thing is, they still had to earn it,” Stewart said. “They had to put themselves in position to be in this spot. They did a good job strategy wise.”

Logano, who got the first of his three Nationwide victories in his third start in that series, said the learning curve in Sprint Cup has been steep.

“It’s tough, believe me, it’s real tough,” said Logano, who made his first Cup start at New Hampshire last September, finishing 32nd. “If you think of last year in the Nationwide Series, yeah, I had some good runs. Did I run where I thought I needed to? No. I think it just took time.

“Now, over there, I think I know what it takes and over here we are working on it and, obviously, from what we did in the beginning of the season to now, we are running a lot better. If you look at my first race here last year, (it) was completely opposite of this.”

Even before Sunday’s win, though, Logano had felt the improvement, and gotten plenty of support from Zipadelli, Stewart’s crew chief for 10 years.

“It’s motivating just to keep seeing yourself getting better and working with Zippy and all of the guys and getting that communication going helps us improve a lot, too,” Logano said. “I try to go to every track with the same mindset, you know, and just go out there, do the best you can, and go for the win.”

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