After Joey Logano convincingly scored his first Nationwide Series win at Kentucky Speedway in only his third series start, talk ignited about when, not if, he should move to the Cup series. While there were plenty of Frontstretch readers out there that stressed the need for Logano to remain in the Nationwide Series for 2009 before making his jump to Cup, I was not one of them. Kentucky had me convinced that should Logano keep putting a hurt on the Nationwide Series field, he could and should be moved to the Cup Series next season. After watching this past weekend’s race at Milwaukee, however, I’m going to need to step back from that assertion. I fully confess, I jumped the gun too soon and got caught up in the hype that surrounded the phenom’s first win.
I have been following NASCAR since 2003, and in those five plus years, Logano is easily among the most talented and competitive rookies I’ve seen at any level of the sport. Logano’s on-track results speak for themselves; in four starts he has amassed a win, two poles and three top 10s. He’s led three of the four races he’s been entered in and was a legitimate contender in all of them. But Milwaukee demonstrated that, as fast as Logano is, he’s also just as unpolished and green as a racecar driver. Though on paper Logano scored a second-place finish, it was an ugly second-place finish. Logano certainly had his bright moments, including a green-flag pass for the lead, adjusting on his car throughout the race and staying in the top 10 for the vast majority of the event. But he also made numerous rookie mistakes that raised eyebrows.
Logano’s pass for the lead on Brad Keselowski was as much a product of his overdriving a corner as anything. Logano’s move was brash, reckless and, considering there were nearly 80 laps left in the race, a tad premature. Logano was certainly fast enough to stick with Keselowski and even pass him, but instead of patiently setting up the No. 88 for the pass, he bowled right over him. Logano’s impatience showed numerous times throughout the race in dealing with lapped traffic as well, as he made contact both in the turns and on the straightaways with vehicles he was trying to clear.
In addition to this youthful hurriedness, Logano further demonstrated a lack of track presence at numerous times during the 250-miler at Milwaukee. The most notable of these incidents occurred on pit road, where Logano struggled to exit his pit box and nearly hit Clint Bowyer after arching too wide on his way out. This wasn’t the first time that Logano has had issues on a tight pit road; at Dover he damaged his left fender early in the going, forcing him to make additional pit stops that may have cost him a shot at the win. Logano finished second on Saturday, but he didn’t make any friends doing it, and the quarterpanels of his No. 20 looked worse for wear after the race.
None of this should be taken to discredit Logano or what he has already accomplished in NASCAR. It’s been said that you can’t speed a slow racecar driver up, but you can definitely slow a fast racecar driver down, and Logano is a very fast driver. But, as Milwaukee showed and as fans such as myself need to realize, he is still a rookie in the world’s most competitive form of motorsports. Logano is fast, but he’s also impatient and still adjusting to the reality of racing in a competitive 43-car field. Logano needs to be afforded a chance to develop like any other driver, and the Nationwide Series is the place to do that.
Now, why Joe Gibbs Racing is fielding a second Toyota this weekend at Loudon for Kyle Busch – who needs another Nationwide Series trophy about as much as I need more bills to pay – instead of Logano, I’ll never know. What I do know is this; Logano is a shining example of what the Nationwide Series should be. He’s an up and comer with all the potential in the world that needs a shine before he tackles Cup. By racing Nationwide, Logano will get exposed to all of the racing disciplines and the majority of the tracks seen on the Cup circuit, and be all the better for it when his time comes. Pursuing the 2009 Nationwide Series title is what Logano, like any other rookie in the series, should be eyeing as their future next year.