NASCAR Still Waiting For Sliced Bread To Rise
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
Joey Logano is still two months from being able to legally enjoy a brew or a glass of wine.
Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that the tall, slim Joe Gibbs Racing driver is still a callow youth of 20. He’s already started his third full season in NASCAR’s elite Sprint Cup series and the 2009 Rookie of the Year has sort of faded into the background.
When he’s referred to at all, it’s not uncommon to hear some TV talking head asking, “Whatever happened to ‘Sliced Bread?’ ” That’s the nickname that was given to the precocious kid by the late Bobby Hamilton, referring to the kid as “The best thing since … ‘’
But Logano hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still driving the No. 20 Toyota that he took over from two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, and he’s still got all that natural talent that had some people expecting instant stardom.
But nothing is that easy in Cup.
Logano is still learning his craft and, sometimes, it’s a real eye-opener.
Coming off a strong finish to last season, including a career-best run of five straight top 10s before a crashing out of the season-finale at Homestead, Logano and his team were expecting to carry
that momentum into 2011.
It hasn’t happened.
So far, the youngster has sandwiched a pair of 23rd-place finishes around a blown engine that cost him a 33rd-place result at Phoenix.
But veteran crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who previously worked with Stewart, keeps Logano on an even keel and his driver remains optimistic.
“We definitely learned a lot this last season and a lot that we were able to put to use for the end of the year,’’ Logano said. “The biggest thing was that me and Zip get along great. We figured out what makes our wheels turn.
“It takes different things for everybody to make things work. We kind of figured each other out and what each other likes. That really shows on the race track.”
And Logano understands he still has a very long learning curve.
“There’s a lot of little things,’’ Logano said. “This sport is built up on a lot of little things.A tenth of a second is so much. We’re looking for a little here and a little there all the time.
“I watched a lot of races during the offseason. I get bored and just want to watch a race because there’s not enough racing on TV for me. When they run the replays and stuff, I’ll watch them. I just watch myself and see some of the things I did on the track and say, ‘Okay, I could have done that better.’ Just make a mental note of it. Try to improve yourself the best way you can. Hang out with your guys, try to keep building that up.’’
After the anticipation of the winter, the slow start has been particularly disappointing to Logano.
“When things are going good, you’d be amazed at how much a bad day can be turned around,’’ he explained. “If you have that momentum on your side, you can turn around a bad day pretty quick.
“When things keep going bad, it’s hard. We went through that part through the summer last year. We went through those tough times. The cool thing is we dug ourselves out of there and we ended it good.’’
Another big change for Logano in 2010 is that, when veterans pushed him around on track, he pushed back.
“I feel like I belong here, this is me,’’ Logano said. “I’m here now, I’m one of the guys, if you want to say that. I didn’t want to get pushed around anymore. I felt like I definitely earned a lot more respect out there than what it’s been before. You have to earn your stripes, I believe. You have to take some every once in a while and, eventually, you can’t put up with it anymore.”
Now Logano has another goal for 2011.
“We want to make the Chase,’’ said Logano, currently 28th in the standings. “I definitely think we’re Chase caliber now. We’ll just see.’’
And Logano won’t mind if he and the No. 20 can get things turned around in a hurry and still remain under the radar, as they did late last season.
“I’m good with under the radar as long as I get my good runs and, hopefully, sneak out a few wins this year,’’ Logano said. “I’m alright with that. I don’t need to be in the middle of all the drama, I just want to win races.”
– Mike Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments