Joey Logano entered Sprint Cup this season as the most talented 18-year-old in the NASCAR record books to date. At Kentucky last June, he set a record as the youngest driver ever to visit Victory Lane in the Nationwide Series, setting the racing community on notice that he was primed for superstardom earlier than anyone might have ever believed.
It was that instantaneous success which likely caused Joe Gibbs Racing to give Logano the nod for the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota this season. Now, he’s balancing the load of being Tony Stewart‘s replacement while running for Rookie of the Year honors in Sprint Cup. And while the first two races have been a struggle — Logano has yet to finish in the top 25 — the expectations surrounding his future success continue to spiral to heights that would be difficult for anyone to achieve, let alone a teenager still adjusting to life as a bonafide stock car superstar.
Our own Doug Turnbull sat down with Logano in Atlanta following a difficult Daytona 500 to talk with him about the pressure surrounding the hype of being NASCAR’s next big thing, what his support system has been like… and whether he really does enjoy life behind the camera as much as on the racetrack.
Doug Turnbull, Frontstretch: Alright, Joey. I know you’ve gotten this question a bunch – but it was a rough Speedweeks for you down at Daytona, culminating with a rough Daytona 500. Just tell me what you think about it? I know restrictor-plate racing is completely different than the rest of the schedule, but do you feel like you learned some stuff? And do you feel discouraged?
Joey Logano: No, I think you got to keep your head up. That’s one race, and one race isn’t going to make it or break it. I think I learned a lot both on and off the racetrack. I think I can take a lot of stuff when I come back there next time and put that to use; so, I think overall it was a plus [to go through some adversity].
Turnbull: Is there a type of track the Cup Series runs on that you think is most appealing to your driving style?
Logano: I’ll let you make that decision when I get to that point (of running a full season)! A lot of these tracks, I haven’t even ran at yet, especially in a Cup car. I’ve only ran at a few tracks (on the series schedule right now).
I think [having a favorite] is just going to come with time. I think initially, probably the short tracks are going to be something that’s going to be better for me. But I think that’s going to eventually change as I get better – it just takes more experience. If I had more experience at Daytona, then I would have been far better than I was last week.
But you can’t do nothing about it [a lack of experience]. You’ve just got to keep getting out there and learning and learning … that’s the only way you can do it.
Turnbull: The No. 20 team was built around Stewart. Do you feel like you have to fill his shoes, or do you feel like this is a situation where you can come into your own?
Logano: I think it’s a situation where I can come into my own, do what I need to do. I think Joe and J.D. [Gibbs] are very supportive in everything I do — that’s key for an 18-year-old kid, for sure. To have that kind of support behind you, I think that helps me out a lot.
Logano: Oh, they’ve helped me out a ton. Especially to start… coming into Daytona, you don’t know what you want your car to do in the draft. Do you want your car to be tight? Do you want your car to be loose? You don’t know that until the race starts, really, where you’re going to be. It’s something that just takes time, takes laps. And having those guys help me out a lot, answer all those questions, it expedited my learning curve and will help me do better next time.
Turnbull: Now, the media, us boneheads, put a lot of pressure on you. A lot of people have already put you out to pasture based on your first race in the No. 96 car last year… are there times when the pressure gets to be too much?
Logano: I think what you gotta realize is, it’s not easy. This is the Sprint Cup Series, with the best drivers… the top dawgs from every series put together in one. It’s like an All-Star Race every weekend… the best of the best out there. It just takes time. You can’t go out there and expect to be the best (right away). Very seldom do you see a college kid turn professional and be amazing right off the bat. So, it just takes time… it’s a learning curve.
So, as long as you know that going into it… [you guys can] think whatever you want to think, but I’m going to try as hard as I can to do the best that I can.
Turnbull: Something people might not know… you raced Legends Cars at Atlanta for a number of years, to the point you could probably consider that speedway one of your “home” tracks. Are you looking forward to racing in the Cup events at AMS that much more because of your history in the area?
Logano: I’m definitely looking forward to Atlanta. I’ve watched a ton of races there, obviously. Made a few laps around the track… it’s cool. The asphalt is getting a little old now, and cars are starting to hang out ‘cause it wears out tires really quick. But it’s a fast racetrack. You can go wherever you want, top to bottom, and it’s a really cool place. So, I’m really looking forward to getting to race there.
Turnbull: You’ve got quite a collection of cars building up in your home garage. What do you ride around in these days?
Logano: I just like old cars. Something unique, something different. I took one of my old racecars, made it street legal, and just cruise around in that thing. Like an old hot rod. Nothing that’s off the wall pricey or anything… just something fun to cruise around in and hang out with your buddies and everything. But that’s me. I just like the unique, different hot rod stuff.
Turnbull: Do you ever like to get under the hood?
Logano: A little bit. I’d much rather drive in a heartbeat, though. I don’t take any big projects on because I don’t really have the time to finish it because of the travel… so I’m not under the hood that much.
Turnbull: One last question: What’s it like doing commercials, like the Home Depot one that must have been on a million times already? Is it something that comes naturally to you, getting in front of the camera like that?
Logano: I’m just myself all the time, so whatever it is, it is. I’ll let you answer that. Did I do OK?
Turnbull: Yeah, I thought you did great.
Logano: Alright. Well then hey, I did OK!
Listen to Doug on the WSB 120 racing show this Saturday, from 2-4 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and online at wsbradio.com. You can also download his FastCar Podcast weekly from CaptainHerb.net.