One of the biggest questions coming into the 2012 season was which manufacturer will have the competitive edge in the 2012 season? It seems as though each year, one manufacturer gets off to a quick start and the others play catch-up.
This year, Toyota is having the most success out of the four different makes of cars in NASCAR. Half of the cars in the top 10 of the NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings are Toyota's (Denny Hamlin No. 1, Martin Truex Jr. No. 6, Mark Martin No. 7, Joey Logano No. 8 and Kyle Busch No. 9).
Leading the charge for Toyota are the three drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing (Hamlin, Busch and Logano). Logano is the most surprising driver on this list. Daytona and Phoenix are not tracks he is strong at. His average finish at Daytona is 20.9 and his average finish at Phoenix is 15.6.
Logano came into NASCAR with high expectations. Randy Lajoie gave him the nickname “Sliced Bread,” because Lajoie thought Logano would be one of the best drivers to ever drive a stock car.
Logano struggled his first three seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Although he has struggled, Logano still has more wins than Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart had in the NASCAR Cup Series when they were 21 years of age.
Logano attended a teleconference with members of the media on Tuesday to answer questions about his career in NASCAR, his success in 2012 and his plans for the season.
Most drivers who make it to the NASCAR Sprint Cup level work their way into the sport. Many spend years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series before the driver is given an opportunity to drive in the top level of the sport.
Logano was given the opportunity to drive full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2009. At the age of 18, Logano became the youngest driver to ever win a race in NASCAR’s top level of racing.
Logano was asked what the most challenging part of being brought up into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series so fast has been:
"I came into this gig thinking, I'm going to drive a race car, the only thing I've done my whole life. When you have to lead a team, especially at a young age, all the guys working on the car are older than you, it's really hard to earn that respect. Especially when times are not as good, like last year, earning the guys' respect is very hard.
You need to be able to do that one way or another. Learning how to be a leader was something I didn't know I was going to have to learn but was a huge deal and hard."
It is hard to imagine the pressure that Logano was under to perform at such an early age. Could you imagine becoming the leader of your company at the age of 18? Now add to that the pressure of millions of fans scrutinizing your every move. The pressure must have been incredible for Logano.
Logano has begun his fourth season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series. He is off to his best start of his career. Logano has never been as high as he is now in the point standings. Logano is in a contract year, so if he wants to continue to drive the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing he will need to prove he deserves it this season.
Logano was asked what he contributes his success in 2012 to:
“I think the big thing is attitude. I feel like my whole team has the attitude right now to go out there and win races, make the Chase, make this happen right now. Everybody has picked up their game a lot. I'm excited about that. And it comes along with a lot of new things.
Obviously with a new crew chief with Jason (Ratcliff), ended up bringing some new life. Changes things up a lot. It's kind of like a restart button. We started off the season pretty good. A couple top-10 finishes. I feel like we're a little bit better than where we finished at Phoenix last weekend, but we came out of there with something solid. If we keep doing that, we'll be right where we need to be.”
Logano has other things to look forward to in 2012. This week, Dollar General will become the primary sponsor on the No. 20 car. Dollar General signed a deal to sponsor the car for 12 races. With sponsorship becoming so scarce in NASCAR, whenever a team finds a sponsorship for its car, it can breathe new life into the team.
Logano was asked what things he is doing differently this year and how he is leading the team:
“It’s hard to put it in words. But you can just kind of feel the difference. My attitude's different. I feel like I walk around with a lot more confidence in myself. That carries through the whole team.
As soon as the driver is real confident... It goes vice versa, too. When someone loses confidence, it's contagious. Keeping that upbeat mood going is going to be huge. Jason is the same way. He's a 'glass is half full' guy. I think that's very important. It's good to have.
Got a new spotter this year, too. He's very positive, keeping our heads in the game during the race. Now, granted, we're only two races into this deal. But we need to stay focused and keep our eye on the prize like we've been doing.”
Logano attributes some of his success in 2012 to a suggestion made to him by team owner Joe Gibbs. Gibbs asked Logano if he would be interested in seeing a sports psychiatrist.
“Joe suggested it to me. I'm like, Shoot, yeah. I drove up to his house, spent a day and a half with him just talking, going through the things that were going on in my life, whether it's on the personal side or racing side.
It gives you some answers, some tools to be able to deal with certain situations, how to talk to people in a positive way, in a motivating way to keep everyone going. All that stuff there is very important. It's people skills really, leadership skills. That part was really important for me. I know Denny (Hamlin) went to the same guy. All that stuff is very important in our sport.”
This could be a break out year for Logano. He seems to have the tools and the experience to lead his team to a spot in the Chase. If Logano continues to improve, the nickname “Sliced Bread” may be the perfect fit.
NASCAR always seems to have a break-through driver each season. Last year, Brad Keselowski jumped from No. 25 in the points standings in 2010 to No. 5 at the end of the year. I would not be surprised to see Logano make the same kind of improvement.
This could be the year Logano puts it all together and shows race fans why he really is “Sliced Bread.”
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