Logano beats lofty expectations with Loudon victory
At 19, Logano became the youngest Sprint Cup winner at Loudon
Joe Gibbs admitted that he wasn't expecting a Logano win this year
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- The driver known as Sliced Bread popped out of the toaster earlier than anybody realistically expected by winning Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.
Just 19 years, one month and four days old, Joey Logano became the youngest winner in series history, breaking a record held by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. And while Logano's rain-shortened victory was less than the scheduled distance -- the race stopped on lap 273 of a scheduled 301 laps -- a win is a win, and it took Logano just 20 races to drive to victory lane in NASCAR's top division.
Logano, who took over the No. 20 Home Depot car at JGR after longtime driver Tony Stewart left to become owner/driver at Stewart Haas Racing, was able to overcome a spin in the fourth turn on lap 184 that put him one lap down. But the youngster took advantage of situations later in the race by getting back on the lead lap on lap 191, and then stretching his fuel mileage to be in position to have the lead when rain began to fall.
Still, the real story is: despite Logano's racing talent as a child prodigy, nobody really expected the Middletown, Conn. driver to steer his way into victory lane this season. In fact, after watching Logano struggle in last November's race at Texas, the skeptics thought team owner Joe Gibbs had moved Logano up to Cup before Sliced Bread's dough had even risen.
Tall, young and gangly, this guy looked more like the Eric Foreman character from "That 70s Show" than NASCAR legends David Pearson, Bobby Allison or Dale Earnhardt. And when he faced Cup completion, Logano drove more like Kelso than Stewart.
But team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli realized the boy had talent, and they were willing to stand by the toaster until Logano popped out.
"This is so special," Logano said. "I think your first win no matter where it's at is huge. Obviously it's not the way you want to win your first race, in the rain, but 20 years down the road when you look in the record books, no one will know the difference. I'll take them any way I can. This is my home track and where I watched my first Cup race. A lot of the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing are from the Northeast so it's cool to get a win here."
With the old coach of the Washington Redskins at his side, and the savvy crew chief calling the shots, Logano's victory had equal amounts of luck, skill and strategy, but in NASCAR, those are all important elements to success.
"Half of this sport is about putting yourself in position to have a chance to win on Sunday afternoon, and that's what we did today and everything went our way," Zipadelli said. "You can almost run this race like a road course, unless you were in the situation that we were in, and we took advantage of it."
So in a world where everyone wants to spin the story forward, what could be more forward than looking at the career of Logano?
Already in victory lane before he is 20, he gives the sport a fresh face to go along with the mainstays such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart. But while he has already joined those drivers on the list of active NASCAR winners, it's still going to take a few seasons before this kid is championship caliber.
Logano may be young, but he is smart enough to realize it's going to take him a while to step up to the next level as a driver capable of winning most any race and contending for championships.
"Well, I figured out that this sport is a roller coaster earlier this season," Logano said. "One week you can win and the next week you can be 43rd, and it's just like that. I've figured out in other series that it's tough. It's motivating just to keep seeing yourself getting better, and working with Zippy and all of the guys and getting that communication going helps us improve a lot, too."
When Gibbs was coaching the Redskins to Super Bowl victories in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he had an eye for young talent. He also liked to have fighters on his team -- guys who didn't give up when things were going bad. He had one of the best fighters in NASCAR for 10 seasons when Stewart was the driver of the No. 20, but when Smoke wanted to start a fire on his own team, that created an opportunity for Logano.
"Zippy and his team last year, we were going to the racetrack knowing that they were going to be in the Chase, having a chance to win the championship," Gibbs said. "And this year, they know that Joey is young, they are fighting their guts out for every spot they can get. We figure we can keep this going, ride this thing for about 20 years. But I may not be here for the last ten."
Gibbs was optimistic that Logano would be his star of the future, but unlike another Redskins coach George Allen who believed "The Future is Now," the owner at JGR didn't quite feel that way in regards to Logano in 2009.
This was a season to learn how to win, but it was a little unrealistic to actually win.
"Do I need to tell the truth on that?" Gibbs asked. "We were really looking for just constant improvement, and that's really what we've seen. I've mentioned the last seven, eight races we've battled back from some real tough things. We did at Sonoma and we did again today and that's what we have been proud of."
Over time, Logano's talent will rise to the level and expectations required to become a star in Sprint Cup. He is with one of the best teams in the sport, has one of the best crew chiefs in Zipadelli to guide him and has a bullet of a race car in the No. 20 Toyota.
As he gets better, Logano's victories will come on a more reliable pace, just like finding a loaf of sliced bread at the supermarket.