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Posted: Friday February 13, 2009 3:39PM; Updated: Friday February 13, 2009 3:39PM

Logano set for first Daytona 500

Story Highlights

At 18, Joey Logano is the youngest driver ever in Daytona 500

He drove in his first Sprint Cup race last season, but this is his biggest race yet

At last week's Budweiser Shootout, he crashed in the third lap

By Robyn Sidersky, CNN

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DAYTONA, Fla. (CNN) -- Joey Logano is ready to enter his first Daytona 500, but if he wins this Sunday's race, he won't be able to enjoy champagne in victory lane.

At 18, Logano is the youngest driver to enter NASCAR's premier event, but he's not letting his age hold him back.

"It's a big step up, but I feel like I'm ready for it," he said.

Logano drove in his first Sprint Cup Series race last year, but this weekend he's stepping into the spotlight.

"It's the great American race, the biggest race of the year, the first race of the season," Logano said. "So it's a big deal to the whole NASCAR world and, you know, to win a race like this is awesome. It's pretty much a miracle."

He called the race "a big career step in my life."

"Actually, it's been a dream of mine since I was 6 years old to be in the Daytona 500, to be in the Sprint Cup Series," NASCAR's newest star said. "To finally get here and race in that race is gonna be awesome."

Logano's eye may be on victory lane, but as a rookie he's got other plans as well.

"I'm kind of going just to gain some respect from the older drivers and kind of see how we go from there," he said.

He plans to do that "by just being smart out there -- don't do nothin' stupid, race everyone clean, race everyone the way you want to be raced."

Logano knows the importance of earning the respect of the other drivers. If they don't trust his driving, it hurts his chances.

"In super speedway racing, you need drafting partners to field the win," Logano said. "If you ever make that big move, you need people to go with you."

Logano suffered a setback when he crashed on just the third lap of last weekend's Budweiser Shootout, a short Daytona race against many of the same drivers he'll face Sunday.

Thursday's Gatorade Duels gave Logano a chance to redeem himself. His fourth place finish gave him a ninth starting position in Sunday's 43 car field.

Thursday's Duels race was key for Logano, who said he doesn't have much super speedway experience.

Logano has taken over the No. 20 Home Depot car from Tony Stewart, one of NASCAR's most successful -- and outspoken -- drivers. He even has Stewart's former crew chief, Greg "Zippy" Zipadelli.

Stewart left the Joe Gibbs racing team to form Stewart-Haas Racing, where he's driving the No. 14 Office Depot car.

Logano's mentor has been veteran driver Mark Martin, whom he met at age 12, when he was racing alongside Martin's son, Matt.

"It's funny, you know, he was my favorite driver when I was 6 years old when I just started racing," he said. "To have someone like that help you out in your career, it's pretty cool how it all turns around."

He said veterans around the garage are quick to offer him advice because he's so young.

"Everyone seems to be, you know, kind of taking me under their wing," he said. "As long I've got questions, they'll answer them all day."

Logano said he knows success on the track "doesn't happen overnight."

"I've got a lot of good things behind me," he said. "I've just got to make it all work."

 
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