Joey Logano only got into major NASCAR racing in May of 2008. Yet, everyone knew he would eventually find stardom in the Sprint Cup Series…in time. It seemed that 2010 would be the season in which he would make the jump, after a little more than a year and a half in the Nationwide Series.
Of course, that all changed when Tony Stewart announced he was leaving to join Haas-CNC Racing, re-naming it Stewart Haas Racing.
Joe Gibbs needed a driver for the No. 20 car. Even though it meant bringing him up a year earlier than anticipated, the team put then 18-year-old Logano in the car.
Was it before he was ready? Yes, and everyone, including Logano, admitted to it. But, in reality, this move was the one that made the most sense. He was the highest ranked Gibbs development driver at the time, and bringing in a veteran to fill the gap for a year wouldn’t have been fair, since that seat would likely have been Logano’s in 2010.
It was an opportunity that Logano admitted he couldn’t pass up, even if he did feel he wasn’t ready to move into the Sprint Cup Series. The experience would come and he would eventually learn the ropes; it would just take time, which the Gibbs team was prepared to give him.
While driving the No. 20 car was the opportunity of a lifetime, it also put incredible pressure on Logano (as if is his nickname “Sliced Bread” and immediate success in every other series he ran in didn’t already do that).
What if he didn’t run well early on? What if his inexperience showed and he failed to finish races? What if he had trouble giving Greg Zipadelli feedback about the car?
His results through the first few months reflect the struggles he had transitioning into the series. He had no finishes in the Top 10 through the first eight races, and only one in the Top 15. A tough start, right?
Not exactly. Remember, Logano’s goal in the opening half of the season was just to gain experience and learn how to drive a Sprint Cup car. The results would come, but not in the first of the season (or they weren’t likely to come at least).
Gain experience was exactly what Logano did. He only has two DNFs to his name this year (neither of which his own doing). He even managed to run well in his restrictor-plate debut during Speedweeks (he finished in the Top Five in his Duel race).
Plus, even in the races he failed to finish, he still ran a great many laps. His Daytona crash ended coming at about the halfway point (when you factor in the rain that eventually shortened the race), and he ran all but 13 laps at Bristol (where he blew a motor).
As far as gaining experience and learning the cars, this first half of the season has been a banner year for Logano and the No. 20. Their success is made all the more impressive given the failures of Scott Speed (the only other Rookie of the Year candidate) and the No. 82 Red Bull team.
That group has failed to qualify for three races (though he was placed in Joe Nemecheck's car in two of them) and is mired back in 36th in the owner standings (Speed ranks 35th in the drivers’ standings). And this is with a driver who came from the “superior” series of Formula 1.
What’s more, Logano has earned the respect of his peers, many of whom congratulated him on his victory yesterday. As important as it is to run well, gaining the respect of the other competitors may be more important.
Logano has paid his dues, hasn’t done anything stupid, and has his fellow competitors’ respect, which says a lot about the person he is.
Is Joey still learning as he goes? Absolutely. He is still a rookie, and will continue to gain experience and get better as the year goes. That much, though, should make his competitors nervous through the end of this season and into next season.
He’ll now be heading to tracks he has been to before in a Sprint Cup car (aside from Indianapolis and Watkins Glen). With that knowledge to draw from, his runs should improve, or I expect them to at least (though he did run relatively well in the first of the year, when he was simply learning the cars and tracks).
What lies ahead for Logano this year? Obviously, a Chase berth is out of the question; he’s too far back. But more wins could be in the cards, especially now that he doesn’t have to worry about the question of “When are you going to win?” He already has!
And, I’ll make a prediction about next year right now.
Given the rate of improvement he has shown this year, I would not be surprised at all if he makes next year’s Chase…and I’ll go out on a limb and say he will.
Joey Logano entered the sport with unseen potential, but also with many lingering questions about whether or not he could handle the Cup Series at such a young age. Not only is he handling it, but he is acquitting himself faster than many believed, and looks to be assuring himself as a future star of the sport.