Joey Logano was fed to the wolves a year earlier than expected and at first he performed just as many expected: He crashed...a lot.
After finishing 43rd in the Daytona 500 in February, subsequently putting him 43rd in points, Logano and the No. 20 Home Depot team got to work, and week after week Logano got just a little bit better.
Soon crew chief Greg Zipadelli was giving Logano homework each week to prepare for the upcoming race weekend.
The two began to click by midyear and Logano’s confidence continued to grow.
In late June he captured his first career win, at New Hampshire, thanks to Zipadelli’s fuel mileage gamble.
With the win, Logano surpassed teammate Kyle Busch as the youngest Sprint Cup winner in NASCAR history.
Four months later, when the checkered flag flew to end the season in Homestead-Miami, Logano was ranked 20th in Sprint Cup Series points and awarded Rookie of the Year honors, once again becoming the youngest driver to accomplish the feat.
“It’s really cool to get Raybestos Rookie of the Year. It was obviously one of our big goals for the season. I’ve got to thank The Home Depot for standing behind me throughout the year,” Logano said.
“We had a real rough start and finished 20th in points. If in the beginning of the season you had told me that’s where we were going to finish I’d have been ecstatic about it, but now you always want more.”
To some, the first year is always the hardest so the 2010 season should be easier.
Reason being is that Logano will be returning to tracks that he’s now familiar with and will have a decent understanding of how the COT drives.
But if history repeats itself, Logano could follow in the footsteps of past ROY winners that couldn’t avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
The sophomore slump gained the reputation of a driver’s second year in the Sprint Cup Series, where after winning ROY, instead of improving in their second full year of competition, they hit a roadblock and their performance got worse.
When looking back over ROY winners from the last nine years, 2000-present, starting with Matt Kenseth, most of those drivers’ numbers went down.
Kenseth went from 11th in points his rookie year, 2000, to 12th his sophomore year.
His numbers in top 10s decreased and his DNF’s increased. He also didn’t back up his first career win from the 2000 season.
Logano’s rookie numbers closely resemble Kenseth’s.
In 2000 Kenseth complied no poles, one win, four top fives, 11 top 10s, and three DNF’s.
In 2009 Logano racked up no poles, one win, three top fives, seven top 10s, and three DNF’s.
If he only slips one place in the points standings in 2010 like Kenseth did back in 2001, then it wouldn’t be considered much of a slump.
Kenseth, however, is one of the rare cases of a rookie that didn’t have a complete disaster of a year.
Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Regan Smith were all ROY winners that experienced the sophomore slump.
Harvick went from eighth to 19th in points, Kahne from 13th to 22nd, Hamlin third to 12th, Montoya 20th to 25th, and Smith from 34th to 39th in the final standings.
In Smith's defense, though, he didn't run the entire 2009 schedule.
If Logano wants to avoid a fate like the drivers before him, he can do so by looking no further than his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, for advice.
Busch won ROY in 2005 with Hendrick Motorsports and finished 19th in points. A year later, Busch put up numbers that were better than his rookie year.
In the categories of top fives and top 10s Busch increased in performance.
He also decreased his number of DNF’s while the wins and poles stayed the same, at one.
Before arriving in Daytona for his sophomore year, Logano should no doubt talk to the new Nationwide Series champion on how to improve instead of decline in performance.
Most likely Busch will tell Logano what his then No. 5 team did when preparing for the 2006 season.
“We just have to prepare ourselves in every which manner and make ourselves the best possible prepared for the season,” he said.
Nothing beats being prepared for everything.
After talking to Busch, there are two other drivers from the previous nine that haven’t been mentioned yet.
They too were exceptions to the rookie slump.
Ryan Newman won ROY honors in 2002, and in 2003 he finished in the same position in the points standings.
However, Newman would be useful in informing Logano how to break through to Victory Lane.
After capturing his first career win in 2002, Newman came out on fire in 2003 and went to Victory Lane eight times.
The only problem was if Newman wasn’t winning he was wrecking, finishing the year with seven DNF’s.
If consistency is what Logano is, and should be seeking, than he needs to hunt down Jamie McMurray.
McMurray was Rookie of the Year in 2003, and in 2004 he improved drastically.
He went from five top fives to nine and from 13 top 10s to 23. He also went from 13th to 11th in points.
Sure, things could only get better for Joey Logano in 2010, but if talking to those drivers isn’t on his agenda, maybe he should once again seek out the man that used to drive The Home Depot machine.
He’s never been much of a slouch, sophomore or otherwise…