NASCAR Sprint Cup rookies Joey Logano and Scott Speed are hanging onto a spot in the top 35, but that's about it. No poles, no wins, no top-fives and no top-10s. Yes, they are rookies, but we expected much more out of these rising superstars.
Logano was destined for greatness, or maybe the preseason hype led us to believe he was. With all that talent and teammates like Denny Hamlin and superstar Kyle Busch, he should be in the top 12 by now.
So what's the problem?
It's not his car. Joe Gibbs Racing provides excellent competitive cars. Logano's teammates are currently seated fourth and eighth in the points.
It's not the talent. We all know of Logano's accomplishments. His first Nationwide Series win came in only his third start—where he also received the pole. In fact, he started 19 Nationwide races and received a total of three poles, five top-fives, and 14 top-10s. Prior to that, he was the 2007 Camping World Series East Champion during his first (and only) year.
It's not his crew chief. Greg Zippaldelli spent 10 years as crew chief for the two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. During Smoke and Zippy's rookie year alone, they won three races.
Possible problem? It could be the pressure of following in the steps of Stewart. Driving the No. 20 Home Depot car that has so much history. Just judging by Logano's past performance, I would say that is very unlikely.
I'm going to chalk up his season so far, by saying that there are so many competitive drivers out on the track in this level of NASCAR. Drivers that are hungry, drivers that are experienced, and drivers that feel they have something to prove.
Logano will struggle this year, but just maybe, with some help from his team and luck from the NASCAR gods, he may become a champion in about five years.
And what about superstar Speed?
In 2007, Scott finished third in the ACRA/REMAX Series, taking home three poles and four wins. Add that to his career in the prior five years that included 16 wins in such series as Formula Mazda, GP2 ,and Formula Renault. Team Red Bull has been sculpting this driver for years to eventually move up into the big time series of Sprint Cup.
So what is happening?
Could be the car. Team Red Bull has become more competitive over the past year, but no where near the caliber of Hendrick, Gibbs, or RCR.
Could be the talent. We've seen superstar drivers that have moved from other series into Sprint Cup and with little or no success such as Dario Franchitti, Max Papis, and Patrick Carpentier. It is possible that Speed's talent lies in another series.
Could be the crew chief (but not likely). Jimmy Elledge has the experience to be a crew chief, although he is not as well known as Chad Knaus, Steve Latarte, and Steve Addington. In 1997, he was car chief for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and worked side-by-side with Larry McReynolds as Earnhardt finished fifth in the points. He has experience at RCR and most recently in 2008, serving as crew chief for Juan Pablo Montoya for the first part of the season.
It's possible that Speed needs a different team. I know he has a loyalty to Red Bull, but unless they step up to a more competitive level, Speed may always be "mediocre".
We may never know if it is his talent or his team holding him back from accomplishing a possible championship.
Fortunate for both of these guys, they have several years to show their talent. And all us NASCAR fans will be watching to see what these rookies will do.
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