By Joey, He's Done It: Logano Wins NASCAR Toyota Showdown at Irwindale

Rob TiongsonSenior Analyst IJanuary 31, 2010

IRWINDALE, CA - JANUARY 30:  Joey Logano driver of the #25 Home Depot Toyota celebrates poses in victory lane after winning win during the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdow at Toyota Speedway  on January 30, 2010 in Irwindale, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

For NASCAR fans, the offseason can often be like a long, drawn out winter for warm-weather fans longing for that summer sun.

At first, the holidays pass by with some inklings of what was a great year, with discussions and reflections about the season that was with upsets, sentimental victories, controversies, and moments shared by various people across the world.

Suddenly, that anticipation grows and the wait for any NASCAR race becomes a test of patience.

How much longer do we have to wait for a race?

Well, there's publications and clips online that provide that respite during the waiting period. However, once those recap shows and preview magazines are viewed and digested, enthusiasts all reach a boiling point, arriving at one question:

When are we going racing?!?

Saturday night's NASCAR Toyota Showdown at Irwindale, Calif. was the scene of the sport's technically first event of the racing season, which kicked off with some of the sport's finest talents in its regional divisions going for the win and bragging rights.

Stock car racing's raw, young stars duked it out on the half-mile asphalt at Toyota Speedway, with action reminiscent of yesteryear's icons in their war-battled mounts of the race arenas.

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Points were not on the line nor was patience in this 225-lap event that had its share of bruised sheet metal and egos.

The field featured familiar faces like '09 Raybestos Rookie of the Year winner Joey Logano, former Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver Steve Park, and two-time defending Showdown winner Matt Kobyluck, who all had terrific performances in this Saturday night spectacular.

Representing some of the future stars of the NASCAR top three series included Martin Truex Jr.'s younger brother Ryan, who won last year's Camping World East championship; Candace Munzy, a racer from the NASCAR Whelen All-American Late Model Series; as well as Sergio Pena, a member of the Drive for Diversity program.

With three segments of racing (two 100-lappers and a 25-lap sprint), the action was like Talladega or Daytona in a cereal bowl, as drivers negotiated around the short half-mile speedway in three to four-wide formations.

Unlike the racing that is a fixture in the top three divisions, there was no holding back during every lap of the event. There was no complaining of racing grooves, with drivers going in about any lane that didn't have grass or a wall on it.

Sure, there were some multi-car accidents and paint trading, but the event lived up to its billing as "The Daytona 500 of Tomorrow's Stars." Every driver, no matter if it was a Cup veteran or fresh face, wanted this race added to their resume.

Leading the way for most of the night were Logano and Pena, who drove like veterans as they traded paint and paced the field throughout the night. Both drivers had stout mounts in the 225-lap contest.

Challengers in Truex and Jason Bowles tried valiantly to race up to the front of the field but were ultimately unsuccessful in their bids for victory.

Bowles finished in 11th position, which had to be a bit disappointing for the defending K&N Filters Pro Series West champion.

As for Truex, his night was rather forgettable in his NAPA Toyota, coming from 30th position to the top 10, only to crash late in the going to place 26th. Fumed at first, Truex eventually settled down and thanked his fans and sponsors via his Twitter.

Toyota Speedway's race was not about who led the most laps or about saving up equipment, unlike the Sunday shows that'll be served up this season in NASCAR.

Instead, it was about delivering to the fans, who waited it out these past two months, with racing that was daring, bold, and ultimately exciting.

No matter how the Showdown was followed, be it through Twitter, on the tube, or at the facility's grandstands, it was a delight to watch for some old-fashioned stock car action that was produced by the field filled with various stories and backgrounds.

Pena nearly stole the show with his amazing performance, starting from the pole alongside Cup sophomore Logano, keeping the 20-year-old in his sights from his No. 4 Freightliner Chevrolet.

Leading some laps and running in the top five during the entire race, the 16-year-old high school junior impressed fans with his stellar showing in what will undoubtedly mark his name with Cup, Nationwide, and Truck team owners in the coming years.

However, when it was all said and done, Logano's No. 25 Home Depot Toyota Camry was just too much for Pena and the rest of the field, as the Connecticut native came home with yet another checkered flag from Irwindale.

Unlike his victory in 2007, when he scored the win as a fresh-faced 17-year-old, Logano's triumph in this year's event may boost some confidence for the second-year driver when the Sprint Cup circuit hits up the Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the season-opening Daytona 500.

Joe Gibbs Racing's investment has to be tickled to death about his win and about his chances to contend and perhaps capture the Great American Race in his regular ride.

Also, the victory was a sort of redemption for the youngster, who was black-flagged from the win last year after a late-race tangle with Peyton Sellers.

Pena established himself as a talent that has the potential to become a young phenomenon in the NASCAR circuit, as he drove his Revolution Racing machine in one piece, showing signs of maturity and guile at a young age.

He raced hard, not afraid to push the limits of his Chevy, but he ultimately brought his car home in nearly perfect condition. Certainly, Pena has a lot to be proud of and he has probably won his share of fans with an outstanding showing at the half-mile.

So for racing fans whose hunger has been satisfied for now, they may want to go on a diet starting in February.

Daytona is almost here and Speedweeks 2010 will certainly provide plenty of appetizers and main courses that will leave any stock car enthusiast with plenty to savor in the coming weeks ahead.

Whether you're a new addition to the series or an old-school fanatic who lived through the dynasties of an Earnhardt, Petty, Waltrip, or Gordon, Saturday night's race reminded us why we devote hours to our TVs and days at the track for these weekend rituals.

Nobody was stroking it for a good finish nor were fans turned off by commercial breaks. Instead, the only noise from fans were cheers and glee about a race that makes Daytona worth the two-month wait.

At least for one night, NASCAR flashed back to its rowdy days and produced a race that has set the bar high for the upcoming championship season that lies ahead.

It was the sport 20 years ago, with drivers, who weren't even born yet, showing us how racing is really done with competitiveness and guts.

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