“I do not go to the racetrack to finish second. Me and second don’t get along. I don’t worry about anything but winning races.” – Joey Logano
Sport – of whatever flavor or variety you prefer – is littered with cases of unfulfilled promise. Youthful exuberance and unfettered possibility generates unbelievable enthusiasm and expectation, but more often than not, fails to translate to the biggest stage of all. Some prospects freeze in the bright lights, beaten down by the magnitude of the moment. Others were simply not as good as their advanced billing and should never really have been there in the first place. A rookie phenom’s “potential for success” has an ephemeral quality with a fragile will-o-the-wisp consistency. Yes, it could happen and the budding star might become one of the greatest of them all but those cases are, for obvious reasons, rare. Sometimes it does happen as scripted and a kid comes from nowhere to become first a star, then a legend, and finally an icon. More often than not, early promise burns out – snuffed out by a combination of being pushed too fast too early and unrealistic expectations generated by too much hype.
It’s too early to tell on which side of the equation Joey Logano will ultimately fall. But on the ridiculously small sample of one race weekend, you have to like the teenager from Middletown, Conn., who has all the right pieces and parts to make the transition from over-hyped teen to full-fledged NASCAR star. So let’s take a quick look back at a few brief highlights from Sliced Bread’s first weekend in the big time.
I want to start with his appearance on Trackside, which he handled with great aplomb with just the right mixture of insulting and flattering comments to the panelists. What was interesting to note was the way Hammond, Waltrip et al questioned the rookie compared to the later interview with Tony Stewart. Smoke interrupted at will, espousing opinions and making points in that wry, understated way of his. Logano on the other hand was all ears clearly concentrating on the questioner. In the case of Larry McReynolds, who is surely the king of asking lengthy, rambling questions, many without an actual point, that’s not an easy thing. Hammond isn’t far behind in the strange pointless questioning actually, but that’s another story. But despite the rather byzantine questioning Logano hit all the right notes. He was flattering to McReynolds who absolutely lapped it up, “Look at Larry’s notes. There’s a crew chief for you,” deferential on Greg Zipadelli, “Yeah he’s a good guy to stay close to. Gotta be nice to him,” and realistic on performance, “At the end of the day it’s who’s in victory lane.” On his nickname, Logano smiled that aw-shucks (almost Carl Edwards-ian) smile of his and said, “yeah it adds more pressure but what the heck. Might as well try to live up to that too.”
But perhaps the funniest moment came from DW who mimics a steering wheel and asks Logano, who was sitting immediately to the right of the three-time champ wearing a GameStop polo shirt and pit cap, “Are you a computer geek?” As you might expect the entire panel cracked up and someone off camera says, “I don’t believe you asked that,” and Stewart, who by then had joined the panel, said, “I believe you asked it”. After more laughter, it’s Logano’s turn. He looks at DW, who looks sheepish as hell, and says, “I’ve got GameStop on my shirt… whaddya expect?” Good stuff.
One of the strangest moments of Logano’s first weekend came in the qualifying show on Speed. The show opened and the announcers flipped straight to Jamie Little who was standing a few feet from Logano’s No. 20 Toyota on pit road. She opened her “non” interview and I waited for her to walk over and stick the microphone in front of the kid. But she kept on talking and while she did the camera cut to Logano who grinned and fiddled with his ear buds. As Little continued, Logano took off his shades and smiled some more, pulled his cap down and tightened his belts. With the Shakespearean length monologue beginning to wind to a merciful close, Logano gave the camera a thumbs up and yet another grin as Little sent it back to the studio. Bizarre. Perhaps it threw the youngster for a momentary loop as he was almost sideways coming to the green on his qualifying attempt, but he recovered to record a creditable ninth place start.
Logano had admitted on Trackside Live that he expected to be a little nervous before the race but we didn’t see many signs of it other than the early pit-road snafu. Now I’m no expert in the machinations of pit road, but it seemed that he had one of those “no after you” moments just for a second as he exited his pit box. Fighting his way back from a low point of 28th, Logano ended up an extremely impressive sixth place. Now there are those that would argue that Logano only finished so highly because of the quality of his equipment and, although they have a point, you still have to drive the car. And drive the car he clearly can. Is the kid for real? You betcha he is.
After all the recent talk of dire times ahead and the financial and sponsorship woes, Logano’s arrival in the Nationwide Series might just have come at the perfect time. Interest in the races is sure to be increased over the next few weeks and if Logano continues to run well. When he wins a race and some of the hype starts to bloom into early reality, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both attendance in the stands and viewership numbers head in a significant northerly direction. Logano has a lot to live up to, maybe too much, especially in this over-hyped world we live in. But based on the very early evidence, he’s off to a fast start and however the season pans out for him, you can be absolutely certain this form of Sliced Bread will be one of the most compelling stories of the year.