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Fast closers in 2010, can Joey Logano and Greg Zipadelli make the championship playoffs this season?

  Joey Logano is finally feeling comfortable wearing the driving suit that Tony Stewart raced for 10 years (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR) 

  By Mike Mulhern


   Psst! Wanna make a hot NASCAR bet on 2011?
   Joey Logano.
   He's the guy that Mark Martin picked way back when, to make it big in NASCAR. And now so early in his career, Logano has already made Martin's call stand out.

   Down the stretch last fall, though he didn't make the championship playoffs, Logano was one of the hottest drivers on the stock car tour.
   He and crew chief Greg Zipadelli still haven't quite revived the glory days when Tony Stewart was at the wheel, but they've clearly turned the corner and this could be the season they really make some statements.
   And the first one could come at Daytona, where he knows some moves.
   "But Daytona is always a crap shoot.  You never know what can happen. 
   "It's even more of a crap shoot now since they repaved it."
   Logano is learning and growing every week, it seems. His latest project, a new Charlotte home: "It's an empty house; I don't have nothing.  I moved with one pickup truck full of clothes. I threw an air mattress on the ground, and off I went.
    "It's a cool adventure." 
    But then NASCAR drivers, even when they've got fast planes, still spend a large part of their lives somewhere on the road.
    The evolution of Joey Logano was highlighted last summer when he got into a few well publicized run-ins, with Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle.
   Logano just shrugs off last season's altercations. "Everyone has gone through it.  I don't think you can talk to one driver in the whole garage that says he's never been in some kind of scuffle. They'd be lying if they said that.
     "When I was a rookie, it was hard to push back.  Now it's to the point 'Okay, I've been here long enough, I feel I'm considered one of the guys.
    "There's no reason to take that stuff anymore. 
     "You've got to stand up for yourself.
      "You don't want to come in like a bull in the china closet, hitting everything. You've got to be respectful; they are not going to give you respect until you show them respect. 
    "But all that takes time to earn."


    Kevin Harvick (29) spun Joey Logano at Pocono, and triggered a face-to-face (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Logano says his relationships on the track are "changing."
   Biffle says he has seen a change in Logano: "I think it was that deal he had with Ryan Newman that really changed him," Biffle said. "When someone (Newman in that case) runs you so darned hard every single lap, well, then you may suddenly ask yourself 'Am I racing everybody that hard myself?'
   "I have seen the change in Joey. We're okay now."
   Logano says it's simply a matter of being there each week: "You've got to be up there running with them every week to get that respect from them. If you're up there one out of every three or four weeks, they don't really care."
     Plus, gosh, it's just more fun and easier when you're running close to the front. Drivers have more respect for each other up there.
     "You race harder for 20th than you do for fifth," Logano says, "because everyone back there is fighting and they're all mad. 
    "It's frustrating back there. Plus you've got all the dirty air. It's a mess."

    So what to expect this year from NASCAR's newest star?
    Logano could easily make this year's playoffs.
    Zipadelli was really pushing Logano last season to step it. That may have gotten him in trouble at times, but now it looks like it's paid off.

     Ryan Newman (sideways) and Joey Logano had their run-ins too (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Chemistry, Logano says, is key. "That was the big thing.
    "Once you get that momentum going, you get all that confidence."
    But Logano has been learning that this sport is not so much about how well you do with a car that unloads hot and fast but rather how well you can do with a car that's off, how well you can recover over the weekend. 
   "If you have a bad car to unload, we used to be junk the whole weekend. 
    "But we got to the point that we could get our car better, and even if we're not good, we're able to get get a good finish.
    "That's how you make the chase."
     Another thing Logano is having to learn – this NASCAR season drags on forever and ever. It is long. Pace yourself. Conserve energy.
   "We took off good last year, and then through the summer months we shot ourselves in the foot," Logano concedes.
    And then the last three months Logano was one of the best finishers on the tour.
    If he'd been in the chase, he'd have finished fourth. Not bad considering how the top three ran.
    This season Logano will be running 22 to 27 Nationwide races, depending on how many more sponsorships he can sell.

    For 10 years the orange car was Tony Stewart's. He was NASCAR's Mr. Home Depot.
    Now, two years in, heading into Year Three, Logano has staked his claim: "Now I feel like that's my team.
    "It took me a year and a half to feel that way."

    One curiosity here: while, say, the Rick Hendrick operation has four veteran, well-seasoned drivers, with 10 years or more on the tour (including Mark Martin, who has raced more than 800 Cup events)....and the Joe Gibbs operation has the youngest roster on the tour, with Logano at 20, Kyle Busch at 26, and Denny Hamlin just turned 30.
    Driving styles? Logano says he's a little wilder than Hamlin: "Denny always has his corners backed up; he's always a little bit slower in the corner.
    "I think I drive a little bit more like Kyle.
    "But some places it's the other way around.  That's why I'm always going from one trailer to the next, talking to them.  Just to see what they're doing."
   How close these three guys work, of course, is up for debate.
    But then Hamlin nearly won the title last season.
   Logano:  "Last year I didn't feel we were ready to make the chase.  I wasn't good enough.
    "The year started, and we were rocking, and I was like 'Oh, yeah, we can do this.  I’ll be good.  We'll make the chase.'
   "Then we shot ourselves in the foot. Probably 60 to 70 percent me. Just me learning. 
    "But I feel I'm there now.
     "In the summer months we run a lot of tracks I've struggled at; that was one problem
     "Atlanta, we blew up. We got in wrecks a lot through the summer; that takes you out of the points quicker than you'd ever think.
    "But this year there is no reason we can't do it.  We ended strong last year, so that gives a ton of confidence.
    "I used to listen to everyone saying ending the year strong was a big deal.  I never really understood it. I understand it now.  It's a big deal."


     NASCAR's youngest new star, Joey Logano, had a rough 2010 but he closed fast (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

Logano Needs To Forget About Points

He has shown no fight in his racing - he has fight on pit road but in the actual races he's rarely a contender. Logano needs to worry about winning races before he starts thinking points.

Maybe Joey Logano needs to

Maybe Joey Logano needs to focus more on his Cup efforts vs dabbling in both Cup & N'wide events now. He's no Harvick, Edwards or teammate Busch.

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