Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

Time to start asking questions about Joey Logano...or should we just be patient?

 Joey Logano: 'The next best thing.' But last fall's charge is history. What has he done lately? (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Joey Logano isn't Tony Stewart.
   And, more than two years into his job as Stewart's replacement on Joe Gibbs' roster, Logano is still something of an enigma.

   Was Logano overhyped?
   Or are we just expecting a bit too much from a guy who has yet to turn 21?
   Yes, that was quite a battle at Richmond Saturday night between teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, who finished 1-2.
   But what about Logano, the third teammate?
   "I was frustrated initially after the race in Richmond," Logano says. "We just couldn't get the car to turn until the last run. 
   "Looking back, having the issues we did -- getting spun into the wall -- an 11th-place finish is pretty good."

   Logano, who was an unknown some 10 years ago when first pegged by Mark Martin as a future NASCAR star, turns 21 in a few days.
   After bursting onto the major league stock car scene with that Nationwide victory at Kentucky Speedway in late spring 2008, after finally turning 18, Logano got the nod to replace two-time NASCAR champ Stewart in Home Depot orange, with veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, on the Cup tour that fall.
   And during that strong late-season charge last fall – a 7th at Charlotte, then a 6th at Martinsville, then a 5th at Talladega, and a 4th at Texas, and a 3rd at Phoenix – Logano looked like he was indeed starting to live up to his 'white bread' reputation, as in 'the best thing since….'

     Joey Logano (R) and teammate Kyle Busch. Logano has a lot of catching up to do to make the playoffs (Photo: Toyota Motorsports) 

   However this spring things haven't gone so well for Logano and Zipadelli, though a 10th at Talladega and 11th last weekend at Richmond give signs of an uptick.
   Of course horsepower has been an issue behind the scenes at Gibbs'. And Hamlin himself, until Richmond, had been all but a no-show this season…and he still needs to show he's got things back under control himself.
   Before the season opened, Zipadelli was hoping this year would kick off as strongly as last year closed. "We learned a lot, and built some confidence in each other that we're capable of running top-10," Zipadelli said. "Now we need to take that next step – get in the top-five, lead laps, and figure out how to lose a couple races so we can figure out how to win some."
   But Logano's led only two laps so far this season and has yet to notch a top-five.  Still, looking at the numbers, Logano is actually qualifying better this spring (averaging a 14.2 start) than he did last fall (16.2).
   And Logano insists he can be patient: "If we're consistent, and put together a string of finishes like we did at the end of last year, we have time to work our way into the top-10. 
    "But it's not going to be easy. 
    "Obviously a win would be huge…but you don't want to take too big gambles yet trying to get a win and end up shooting yourself in the foot."


    Crew chief Greg Zipadelli (R) and Joey Logano. Not to put any pressure on the guys, but since Tony Stewart's last win for the team, in October 2008 at Talladega, the team has only one win, in that rain-shortened race at Loudon, N.H. in 2009...while Jimmie Johnson has added 16 tour victories and three Cup championships. (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   Of all the tracks on the tour, this one – just a mile and a third around -- may require more patience than any, particularly with the outrageously fast speeds drivers are turning on the new asphalt…way too fast really, for a 1950s track.
   Logano, his first time here, led laps, ran up front much of the race, and finished ninth, quite respectable.
   "But last year we really struggled," Logano says. "So I don't know what to really think about this track.
    "I do know if you are a little off on balance and set-up, it feels like you are way off.  There's not much room for error. 
    "And it's also one of those tracks I don't have as many laps around because we only have one race a year."

   The relationship between Zipadelli and Logano is quite different than the relationship between Zipadelli and Stewart. After all Stewart was 10 years older than Logano when he himself broke into the big leagues. And Stewart was already an Indy-car star at that time.
   Sure, a three-win rookie season marked Stewart as comer…and Zipadelli as a star-maker. And we all know the ups-and-downs Stewart went through, and Zipadelli's hard work behind the scenes to get Stewart's head right.

     Tony 'Smoke' Stewart, and crew chief Greg Zipadelli, during their glory days together (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  Now Zipadelli is working with Logano. A year ago Zipadelli said he wanted Logano to step it up a couple of degrees in his sophomore season. This spring Zipadelli concedes "He and I needed to work closer together….I needed to change a little bit in what I was doing, how I was dealing with him, because he was not the person I had dealt with for 10 years.
   "And the same for him. I don't think he quite understood – coming in at such a young age, with so little experience – the responsibility of a driver over here. It's not just 'Show up.' It's 'Show up, do your job, understand what it is and how to do it, and give good feedback.'
   "Mid-season (2010) we did have some opportunities to spend some time together…it certainly helped us. And he's responded well to his responsibilities."
   Last summer, of course, Logano had that well-publicized run-in with Kevin Harvick…after a run-in with Greg Biffle…and then a run-in with Ryan Newman ( http://bit.ly/l5c5Sc ). Those three were blunt in their analysis of Logano as over-driving.
   And things began changing a few weeks later, culminating in that crisp late-season charge.


      Joey Logano, on pit road at Martinsville (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)

   Zipadelli says Logano simply had to realize that he had to earn his spurs at this level: "Let's face it – he came in here at 19, got put in a car (replacing) arguably one of the best drivers this sport has seen.
   "He had huge shoes to fill, in a lot of ways, from Tony's performance on the track to his spirit off the track.
   "And in a lot of ways Joey got thrown to the wolves. It took him the first year to get through that, and see who he was going to be here."
   And last summer's Pocono run-in with Harvick, late in the race, the two battling for top-five position. And Harvick bluntly dumping Logano.
   Logano charged to confront Harvick on pit road after the race.   http://bit.ly/lx3ZYo
   "Joey ran top-five all day, he earned it, and somebody took it away," Zipadelli said. "Hat's off to him – he should be mad. If he wasn't mad, I would have had a bigger problem…
   "The Newman incident, that was a racing deal. That's not the only time that's going to happen. We've talked about it….and Joey is not going to run off. That's all part of growing up, taking responsibility for your actions in the car, and learning how to race each individual differently."
   All well and good, but Zipadelli realizes the bottom line here this season – Logano needs to make the playoffs. He finished 16th in the Sprint Cup standings last year; he comes into Saturday night's Southern 500 21st.
   After all, when you look at the quarterpanels, Lowe's rival Jimmie Johnson has won five straight NASCAR titles, and he's just nine points out of the lead.
   Zipadelli says Logano has two big things going for him: he doesn't wreck a lot, and he's a quick learner.
   "He doesn't make a lot of mistakes," Zipadelli says. "The first year (2009) he didn't tear up nearly the amount of stuff a lot of people do.
   "The points system is about consistency…and who's the best at that: Matt Kenseth. Joey reminds me of that a little bit…with a little more fire."



    Greg Zipadelli, comparing notes with crew chief/teammate Dave Rogers, whose own driver, Kyle Busch, is one of the hottest on the stock car tour (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



Little Joey was born on third

Little Joey was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple. Home Depot is being taken for a ride.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com