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Posted: Thursday September 18, 2008 1:51PM; Updated: Thursday September 18, 2008 2:05PM
Mark Beech Mark Beech >
RACING FAN

The future of NASCAR: Joey Logano

Story Highlights
  • Logano proved last Sunday that he could be the future of racing
  • While he didn't finish, he did better than Busch and Johnson did in their debuts
  • Six years ago, Johnson won the MBNA All-American Heroes 400 at Dover
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Joey Logano
While 18-year-old Joey Logano didn't tear up the track last Sunday, his performance was better than some current NASCAR stars.
AP

GREEN FLAGS

To paraphrase Jon Landau, the Rolling Stone critic who wrote one of the first ever raves for Bruce Springsteen, I have seen NASCAR's future, and it's name is Joey Logano. Granted, the 18-year-old Logano didn't quite tear up New Hampshire Motor Speedway last Sunday the way the 25-year-old Springsteen did at the Harvard Square Theatre in Cambridge on May 9, 1974, but he made an auspicious debut nonetheless. Driving the No. 96 Toyota for Hall of Fame Racing, Logano excelled just by making it from the green flag to the checkered -- a result that eluded such Cup studs as Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson in their debuts.

And while he was disappointed with the result, his 32nd-place run was plenty satisfying to the folks at Joe Gibbs Racing who are preparing him to run a full Cup schedule next season. "He just needed to run a smart race and finish all 300 laps," said Wally Brown, who runs the testing program at JGR, in which capacity he has worked closely with Logano since early 2007. "I'm sure other people were putting pressures on him, but he just has to prove to NASCAR that he's ready to get in that 20 car next year."

That shouldn't be a problem. I asked Brown last Sunday what was so special about Logano. After thinking for a few seconds, he said, "Here you get this kid, and you show up at a track and he's never been there before or driven this kind of car before. And you send him out there and within, like, three to five laps, he's running as fast as you've ever run there before with anybody. And you just say, Wow."

Logano may drive like a man, but he is pure teenager outside of a car. With his long features and adenoidal mien -- call him NASCAR's version of McLovin' -- he looks like a baby compared to somebody like Tony Stewart, who he'll be replacing in the 20 car next year. He's also not especially introspective yet, but give him time. Depth will come with manhood. For now, his callowness probably serves him well. He might be the most hyped rookie to come along in the history of NASCAR, but that fact doesn't affect his outlook. As he told me last Friday, "I don't think it's that big of a deal."

Maybe not to him. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Logano win a race or two in 2009. If he does, perhaps then he'll see what all the fuss was about.

How To Drive

Dover International Speedway

Kyle Busch, who finished 34th at New Hampshire last Sunday, talks about how he plans to rebound this week at the Monster Mile: "We've got to put last week behind us and look ahead to this week. Last week is over and there's nothing we can do about it. [Crew chief Steve] Addington and all the guys have given me great stuff this year, so one problem isn't going to deter me. I believe in these guys. Whenever we've had a bad race, we've been able to put it behind us the next week. We didn't have good races either time at New Hampshire, but the week after the first race there we came back and won at Daytona. We weren't good at Pocono either race, but won at Watkins Glen the week after the second Pocono race. This team has had a knack for forgetting about bad weeks quickly and hopefully we can do that this week, too."

Pit Stops

1: Number of times that Greg Biffle has failed to finish in the top-10 at Dover in the last seven races

116.1: Biffle's driver rating at Dover, the best in the Cup series

8.3: Average finish at Dover for Carl Edwards, Biffle's teammate at Roush Fenway Racing

Dover Memories

September 22, 2002: En route to a rookie-of-the-year title and a fifth-place finish in the final points standings, Jimmie Johnson leads a race-high 170 laps and wins the MBNA All-American Heroes 400 at Dover. It is his second victory at the track in '02, and his third overall.

 
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