Look out Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. Move over Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, because you're going to have company soon.
Joey Logano is coming faster than a Kyle Busch temper tantrum.
As soon as the announcement became official that Logano would be taking over the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in 2009, fan reaction was mixed. Choruses of "he's not ready or deserving" and "Joe Gibbs Racing is rushing him and will damage his career", dominated the headlines and conversations.
Some were not ready for or accepting of the kid nicknamed "Sliced Bread" that Mark Martin is credited with discovering years ago.
Logano stepped in and got ready to battle the beast, but one thing quickly became clear: he was a master in the Nationwide Series, but a slave in the Sprint Cup Series. Darrell Waltrip says that Logano is better suited for the Nationwide cars, the old stye of race car, then the "old man" car of the COT.
Success though, came early and often in the Nationwide Series. His first race resulted in a top ten finish, and just two weeks later he had his first career pole and his first career win, after competing in only three races.
Logano's continuing success in the Nationwide Series—he has three poles and three wins in 15 starts this season—is just another brick laid on the Joey Logano victory path. The child star has won in everything he's sat in: Bandoleros, Legend cars, Late Models, Hooters Pro Cup cars, Camping World East Series cars, and ARCA cars.
He has more winners and championship trophies in his room then young girls have posters of Johnny Depp in their rooms.
"I had a go-kart and I always drove around his [father Tom's] yard, he had a garbage company," Logano says of his racing start. "I drove around this go-kart trying to avoid dumpsters and stuff, which sometimes I didn't"
These days, Logano isn't racing dumpsters, he's racing NASCAR's best, and improvements are being made. After wrecking early and often in the Sprint Cup Series and having teammate Kyle Busch drive his car, Logano and crew chief Greg Zipadelli have found their lingo.
Logano is giving better communication about the car, and Zipadelli has learned that the things he did and the races he called for Tony Stewart are not going to work with his new rookie driver.
Thankfully for Logano and the No. 20 team, rumors of the teenager being pulled out of the car before he even got comfortable in it have all been squashed. Everyone can focus solely on racing.
The kid of the Sprint Cup Series was finally seen as just that, a kid and not "Sliced Bread" or the next Jeff Gordon.
Once people lowered their expectations and accepted that Logano was only human, it seemed that Logano started to loosen up and change his attitude as well. He was openly criticized last year when he was angry with his top ten finish in his first Nationwide race, as well as his interview before his first Sprint Cup race, also the first race in the 2008 Chase, in which he all but said he would be swinging for the fences.
Some will say they saw the change when the Cup Series hit Darlington in May. The consensus seemed to be that the track "To Tough to Tame" or the "Lady in Black" was about to chew up and spit out the rookie. However, Logano used lessons learned from Darlington tamer Cale Yarborough to come home in the ninth position.
Fans started to take notice for all the right reasons and the consensus changed to, "Hey, maybe this kid isn't too bad after all."
A week later, Logano rode that wave of momentum into Charlotte for the Sprint Showdown race, where he finished fifth, but his night wasn't over. "Hundreds of thousands of votes have come in and one driver has stood above all else. And so tonight the winner of the Sprint Fan vote is ... Joey Logano," exclaimed Rick Flair.
No, it wasn't a joke nor were the 300,000 "fans" from the Home Depot commercial paid to vote him in. NASCAR fans prefer Joey Logano to Martin Truex Jr., AJ Allmendinger, and Bill Elliott.
Six races later in his 20th career Sprint Cup start, Logano and the No. 20 team were declared the winners of a rain shortened New Hampshire race and fans were a lot more receptive then when David Reutimann won the rain shortened Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe's. No one really raised any cain over the 19-year-old becoming the youngest winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history.
Logano's real claim to fame though and real welcome to NASCAR moment could be every time he's introduced to the fans.
The crowd lets Logano know that they are watching the future face and maybe future champion of NASCAR. They love what's he's doing on the track and every time he's in position to win a Nationwide Series race, Facebook and Twitter pages light up with their approval. And when he beats teammate Kyle Busch, the fans in the grandstands go absolutely nuts, and cheers and flashbulbs rule the night.
A year ago, people thought that Kyle Busch couldn't be beaten, and now that a kid has come along and schooled him on more then one occasion, people are loving it. Logano should consider himself blessed; he is winning over NASCAR fans, which is not an easy thing to do.
Week after week Logano gets better and week after week his fan base grows. MySpace and Facebook fan pages have been created about him, other sites such as Gojoeylogano.com and Loganoworld.com are dedicated to the teenage phenom. Google his name and you get 110,000 hits or type his name in the YouTube search bar and you get 879 videos to spend the day with.
There's no doubt that there will be more wins in both series and as time goes on, it wouldn't be shocking if Logano was battling Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon for championships.
He's not only the future of NASCAR on the track, but off it as well.
At the rate he's going and the way the fans voted him into the All-Star race, don't be surprised if his popularity one day matches Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart. Maybe those young girls are trading in their Johnny Depp posters for Joey Logano pictures and die-cast cars.
Get a good look NASCAR fans, you're starring at the fresh, smiling, happy face of Joey Logano: future NASCAR Most Popular Driver award winner.
"Well look at me, I'm living the dream. It's something I always wanted to do...so of course I'm gonna be happy."
Photo Credit: David Yeazell.
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