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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2008 Driver Review: Joey Logano

2008 Ride: No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing Toyota (two races); No. 02 Home Depot Toyota (Texas)
2008 Primary Sponsors: DLP HDTV (No. 96); Home Depot (No. 02)
2008 Owners: Jeff Moorad (No. 96), Joe Gibbs (No. 02)
2008 Crew Chiefs: Steve Boyer (No. 96), Wally Brown (No. 02)

Stats: 3 races, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 2 DNQs, 64th in points
Best Finish: 32nd – Loudon (Sept.)

High Point: While Joey Logano had plenty to smile about over in the Nationwide Series, there wasn’t much to write home about from his brief experience with Sprint Cup. But starting his first career Cup race in New Hampshire had to be a great feeling; the track is the closest the series runs on to the 18-year-old’s hometown of Middletown, Conn.

Low Point: Virtually his entire on-track experience at the Cup level. Perhaps the tide turned with some poor luck at Richmond; after running in the top 10 during practice, Logano got shut out of the starting lineup when rain washed out qualifying for the fall race in September. It was supposed to get better from there… but it never did.

Summary: As Logano prepares to fill big shoes in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota next year, JGR officials had to be a little discouraged by what they saw in the youngster’s 2008 Cup Series debut. Struggling to finishes of 32nd and 37th in the JGR-supported No. 96 Hall of Fame Toyota, Logano actually was removed from the seat in a mutual decision over poor performance. Not exactly the model of exemplary behavior on the radio, Logano was characterized as whiny and struggled to manage his frustration with what ultimately proved to be poor setups which didn’t match his driving style.

Towards the end of the year, Gibbs also tried to enter Logano in a fourth car, the No. 02, to gain more experience. But rain ruined two of his three qualifying efforts, and in the one race he did make (Texas), the youngster struggled in first-rate Gibbs equipment, coming home seven laps off the pace in 40th. Beating just the three cars that failed to finish, it was another tough learning experience for the youngster, who made mistakes on pit road and never found the necessary speed to be competitive.

Of course, in the Nationwide Series Logano thrived, winning once and collecting 14 top-10 finishes in 19 starts. But so far, that success hasn’t carried over for the young phenom nicknamed “Sliced Bread.”

Off-Track News: Logano made waves midseason when he was announced as the Cup-level replacement for the departing Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. Other than that, the mild-mannered 18-year-old hasn’t caused too much drama when he steps out of the racecar… so far.

2009 Outlook: After a ho-hum beginning, Logano will be forced to step things up quickly as he assumes his new role piloting the No. 20. On the bright side, his support staff will be top notch, as crew chief Greg Zipadelli and much of the team remains intact in the wake of Stewart’s departure. Joe Gibbs has proven capable of both nurturing and developing young talent, and he and son JD will team with Logano’s family to offer every level of possible support.

Certainly, Logano’s year could lead in a very positive direction – it’s notable that neither Jimmie Johnson nor Greg Biffle set the world on fire in a handful of Cup starts before their full-time rookie season. However, there’s a big difference in that those rookies got to test in the offseason, while Logano will not due to NASCAR’s testing ban – a move that forces him to look for experience in other ways. Already running the ARCA event at Daytona for Venturini Motorsports, don’t be surprised if Logano pops up in every developmental series imaginable just to get the experience he needs to keep his head above water.

Also, for every positive influence at JGR, Logano will also be tempted by the immaturity often expressed by teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Will he be able to keep himself on an even keel when the going gets tough? That could be the million-dollar question in whether Logano eventually lives up to the hype – or becomes this generation’s version of Casey Atwood.

Quote of the Year: “By lap 200, I wanted it to end because we weren’t running worth a dang.” – Logano on his first career Cup start at Loudon, where he finished 32nd

2007 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2008 Grade: D

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