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Tony vs Joey: Patience, patience, says crew chief Greg Zipadelli


Crew chief Darian Grubb speaks with Tony Stewart (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   So how are Tony Stewart and Joey Logano faring as the new season kicks off?
   Well, Logano, the 18-year-old rookie in the car that Stewart drove to two NASCAR championships in his 10 years with car owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli, is struggling, as expected.
   And Stewart is running surprisingly well, for a first-time owner-driver. In fact Stewart sits fourth in the Sprint Cup standings two races in.
   "These early races teach you very quickly where your program is compared to the competition," Stewart says.  "If your cars are good, you'll run well at California, Vegas, Atlanta and Texas.
   "Everybody wants to know where they stack up.  
    "And if you can get off to a good start, it shows your program is really where it needs to be.  
    "So this is a huge week."
    Particularly for Logano, who is facing here yet another NASCAR track he's never raced at before.

Rough start for the rookie (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

The kid's got talent, certainly, but the media hype around him can be deafening, if he lets it get to him. Maybe the media should give him a break the next couple of months.
  Ah, but no.
  He's driving for a championship caliber team. Gibbs made the call to put him in the seat. And with that comes pressure to perform.
  So far Logano has struggled. He ran well in his 150 at Daytona, even had a shot to win, and made a daring move the last lap. But since then it's been a struggle. His 26th-place run at California (after starting 34th) beats his last-place finish at Daytona. But he's only 37th in the standings.
   "This is going to be one of those weekends where I am going to learn a lot," the lanky Logano says in understatement.
   "I've never raced at Las Vegas. I watched the test last year, but that's about it.
    "So if we can make gains from the start of the weekend to the end of the race, like we did in California, we should be okay.
   "This is a huge learning year for me.
    "I'm going to try to get used to the track, used to the car on this type of track, and go from there.
    "It's the same approach I am going to take the first half of the season as I gain experience."
    It's also a learning year for Zipadelli, adjusting to a new player after years with the veteran Stewart.
    "Track time is important, so we plan to unload and let him run five or six laps in race trim and then go to qualifying trim pretty early, to make a little bit more of an effort than we did last week, and let him have more runs," Zipadelli says.
   "If we can just do a little better every week, whether that is one position or five positions, that is improvement, and that is what we need to do all year long."
    Maybe playing for the long-term with Logano is the right strategy….but remember this is a sport where the catch-phrase is 'What have you done for me lately?'
   And on the other side of the Gibbs camp, Kyle Busch is off to a rip-roaring start again.
   The local boy finished second in the Daytona Truck race, fourth in the Daytona Nationwide race, won his 150-mile Daytona sprint, and dominated the 500 until he got crashed out.
  Last weekend at California Busch won the Truck race, won the Nationwide race, and finished third in the Cup race.
  In short – in the year's six national touring events, Busch has run all six and led a total of 358 out of a possible 843 laps.
  Now that's hot.
   And that not only puts heat on Logano but on Denny Hamlin too, the third Gibbs man.

    Stewart has won at every track on the NASCAR circuit except this one. What is it about Las Vegas Motor Speedway that has dogged him?
    Bad luck.
    Of course as well as Stewart is running right now, that luck should change for the better here. Only three men have top-10s in the year's first two events, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Stewart.  
   "To come out of California -- not one of my best tracks -- with another top-10 is a pretty strong statement," Stewart says.
   "This is still a very young team. To have the results we've had so far is very encouraging.  
    "It's important to get off to a good start. We've done that. We've been solid for two straight weeks."
   It's not just Stewart's talent at the wheel, of course. Check out Kurt Busch for talent at the wheel not quite being married to the rest of the deal, for example; and car owner Roger Penske has been doing this stuff a heck of a lot longer than Stewart.
   And it's not just the equipment, even though it's hard to beat Rick Hendrick's stuff. Check out teammates Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin on that side of it.
   So let's give some credit to the men running this ship – crew chief Darian Grubb and general manager Bobby Hutchens.
   "We've got guys from five different organizations here," Stewart says. "We've tried to take the best ideas from all five.
   "So there's a lot of trial and error.
   "We didn't expect to be perfect right off the bat, and we haven't been. But we've got a really good direction of how we do things."
   At this track, Stewart perhaps needs to be rather careful with his tires. He's run very well here, leading laps, dominating races…only to blow tires. He did, though, run second in 2000.

Joey Logano (L) and teammate Kyle Busch at California (Jason Smith/Getty Images)


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