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Joey Logano seems to have accepted his lot in life with an equanimity that belies his tender years. It can be a heavy burden to carry the nickname Sliced Bread (as in "the greatest thing since ...") when you're an adenoidal 19-year-old rookie learning to drive perhaps the most unmanageable race car of the modern era on motor sports' most competitive circuit. But Logano doesn't shy away from the hype. Indeed, he features the sobriquet on his website. "What the heck," he says, "I've got a lot more pressure than just that, so it really doesn't bother me much."
The jump to Cup racing means driving a car that's more powerful and far trickier to handle than lower-level rides, and doing it on a new track every week. Logano's ongoing NASCAR education is trending toward improvement—after finishing outside the top 25 in six of his first seven races, he has run off three top 10s in his last seven starts—but it can still produce uneven results. Witness his performance last weekend. He won the Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway last Saturday night, then struggled to a 25th-place finish the next afternoon in the Cup race at Michigan. "The Nationwide car and the Cup car are like night and day," he says. "It's like going from a Corvette to a tractor trailer."
But while Nationwide success hasn't translated directly to Cup wins, it has helped boost Logano's confidence. Despite skipping two of the 14 Nationwide races so far this year, he has won twice and ranks fifth in the series standings. Two weeks after his victory on April 11 at Nashville, where he led a race-high 95 laps and beat Cup stars Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Logano earned his first top 10 finish at the Cup level with a ninth-place run at Talladega. "After Nashville it was like, O.K., I'm not an idiot," he says. "I'm here for a reason."
Helping Logano prove that point is his crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli, who won two Cup titles in 10 seasons with Tony Stewart. Ignoring all the ballyhoo that surrounds his young trainee, the methodical and meticulous Zipadelli, 42, has zeroed in on increasing Logano's comfort at the Cup level. That effort got a major boost from back-to-back ninth-place runs last month at Darlington and Charlotte, where, according to Zipadelli, the surfaces provide more grip to the tires. "When we went to Texas [on April 5], Joey was hanging on for dear life," he says. "Now he's where at least he feels like he can tell you what he's feeling."
Currently 25th in the Cup standings, 365 points out of 12th place, Logano has almost no chance to qualify for the Chase. But he seems well on his way to winning top rookie honors. (Second-place Scott Speed trails him by more than 400 points.) More important, Logano appears to be laying a solid foundation for continued improvement. "I think you're a couple of years from seeing how good he really is," says Zipadelli.
For a young man who's lived his life in a rush—he made his Cup debut last fall at New Hampshire at 18—Logano is content for now to race and learn. There will be time for victory soon enough.
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