By admin | March 2, 2009
By Richard Allen
I was a bit surprised last year, when after Tony Stewart announced he intended to leave Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2008, that Joey Logano had been named to replace the two time Sprint Cup champion.
Itâ€™s not that Logano doesnâ€™t have the ability to drive a race car. He has shown since his early teens that he could race and win. However, the lesser series he has driven in are not the Sprint Cup or even the Nationwide Series.
Logano only turned 18 years of age, and thus eligible for NASCARâ€™s top divisions, last year. After coming of age, he competed in 19 Nationwide races, beginning with Dover in May. The young driver looked like a fish taking to water winning two poles in his first three starts and scoring a victory in only his third outing in Kentucky.
However, that turned out to be the high point for Logano. He finished 2nd in the next two races after that Kentucky victory but would then go 11 more starts before earning another Top 5.
JGR seemed determined to take it slowly with their young phenom, even holding him out of races he could have competed in after becoming eligible. Suddenly, however, that course of action changed abruptly with Stewartâ€™s announcement.
Logano was put in a couple of different rides for five half hearted efforts in the Sprint Cup division in 2008 to prepare him for taking the reigns of the #20 ride. His highest finish was only a 32nd and he recorded two DNQs.
It looked from the outset of 2009 that Logano was not comfortable with his new situation. He did record a 4th place in his Gatorade Duel qualifier at Daytona. But other than that, he has struggled to adapt. He has had trouble in the early practice sessions before each of the seasonâ€™s first three races. He had so much trouble in Daytona that JGR had Kyle Busch to get in the car and make some laps in order to provide feedback to crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
Now that he is where he is and itâ€™s too late to turn back, JGR continues to push the issue in the wrong direction. Logano was unable to drive the cars he was initially given.
No doubt, the #20 crew has relied on old set up notes in preparing their cars for the 2009 races. Those set ups were geared toward Tony Stewartâ€™s driving style. There are few drivers capable of driving like Stewart. Then, JGR sent Busch, one of those few drivers who can match Stewartâ€™s abilities, out to practice the car. One has to wonder what could have been learned that would help Logano.
Loganoâ€™s finishes this season have reflected his lack of comfort. He was 43rd in Daytona, 26th in California and 13th in a crazy Las Vegas race. He is currently 32nd in the Sprint Cup standings, dangerously close to the all important 35th position. Being outside the Top 35 after the fifth race of the season would require that he qualify on speed rather than being guaranteed in each race.
Some might suggest that the Vegas run is an indication Logano is getting it. However, there were a number of major players to have trouble in that race. But, he did accomplish a very important step in that he brought the car home in one piece and stayed on track for the entire distance.
Joey Logano is very talented for someone his age. But the question is, can anyone that age be successful at the highest level in NASCAR? Another question is, are the decision makers at Joe Gibbs Racing pushing too hard?
If you think he is too talented to have terminal damage done to his career just remember the name Casey Atwood.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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