For the past couple of years, NASCAR fans everywhere have heard about a young driver who was supposed to be the next best thing since “Sliced Bread.” That driver, of course, is 19-year old Joey Logano, who’s been trying to live up to the hype ever since Mark Martin first “discovered” him at age 15.
Much has happened to this youngster from Connecticut since making his first Nationwide Series start in Dover last year. Tony Stewart announced his departure from Joe Gibbs Racing, which put Logano almost immediately into the seat of the famed No. 20 Home Depot Camry for 2009. This season got off to a rough start, where, at one point, the team was barely hanging on to a guaranteed spot in the Top 35. However, Logano and company have started to turn things around, and the rookie now appears to be headed in the right direction, with three top 10 finishes in the last six races to rise up to 25th in points.
Frontstretch’s Tony Lumbis spoke with Logano during the Pocono 500 weekend, where the rookie speaks about a recent run-in with teammate Kyle Busch, what it’s like to have Coach Joe Gibbs as a boss, and some of the charity work that he enjoys doing.
Tony Lumbis, Frontstretch: Have you had a chance to speak to Kyle Busch about the bump during the final laps of Nationwide race at Dover?
Joey Logano: Yes, he had a right front down. I didn’t know it at the time, but I wish I did. We talked about it and worked it out. The part that sucks is that he led all those laps and didn’t win the race. That’s the tough part.
What’s ironic is that I finally had a good restart (laughs). It was the one time I had a good restart, and look what happened.
Lumbis: Your 2009 season has really turned around for the better, starting with Talladega in April. How do you account for such a large turnaround, where you’ve gone from barely hanging on to the Top 35 earlier this year to fighting for top-10 finishes every week?
Logano: I can actually attribute it to a lot of things. Zippy (crew chief Greg Zipadelli) and I are working better together. I’m learning more about telling him what to change. Getting used to these cars is helping a lot. The tough part is when you go to places that you’ve never been to before. Even if you’ve been to them in other series, these cars are so different it’s like being at a new racetrack.
Lumbis: How has your relationship been with Greg Zipadelli – especially considering the fact he has previously worked with a driver for 10 years that has a much different personality than yours?
Logano: I think it’s been going pretty smooth. We’ve been testing a lot. Every week, we go somewhere. We just keep on getting more laps with these tires and keep working together. We’re starting to create notes together that we now can go off of. [In the past,] we’ve been going off of Tony’s notes and making changes based on what his input was. Well, it’s not the same, and it doesn’t always work for me. Now, I’ve got something I can go off of according to my feedback. That’s probably the biggest help so far.
If you look at the races so far this season, we haven’t been strong at the start of the race, but by the end of it, we’ve been going as fast as we are capable of going, sometimes getting into the top 15 or top 10. So, when we hit these tracks for the second time, hopefully we’ll start where we left off the first time.
For example, look at Dover. That was the third time I’ve been there in my Nationwide car; however, it was really the first time I knew where I had to be and knew where I had to go. Dover is one of the toughest racetracks that I’ve ever been to. There’s nothing else like it. You drop off into the corner, and there’s like 20 different ways to get around the curve. It’s difficult to get your car to be good in, turn in the center, and be good off. You’re always trying to figure out where you have to give up something in order to gain somewhere else. It took me three times to understand where I needed to be. Certainly, some places will take longer than others to get used to. Add to that you are racing against some of the best drivers in the world, and it makes for quite a challenge.
Lumbis: You certainly made a good recovery during the Sprint Cup race at Dover.
Logano: Yes, that’s the good thing about this team; they have a “never say die” attitude and keep working.
Lumbis: How has Coach Joe Gibbs influenced you as both a driver and a person?
Logano: Coach is a great guy and helped me a lot when times were tough at the beginning of the season. He was a good motivator, letting me know that I was going to be all right. As a driver, you want to hear that. You don’t want to hear, “You better pick it up or you’re out.” It’s good to have an owner like Coach Gibbs.
Lumbis: Is he the reason why you are a Redskins fan?
Logano: Yep, I actually don’t know much about football, so I root for the Redskins because of him. I figured that’s a good reason (laughs). I got to meet Coach [Jim] Zorn (current Redskins coach) at the Charlotte race, which is pretty cool. I watch some of the games, but not a lot. I get more into it around the playoffs.
I’m more of a hockey guy. I like going and watching them every once in a great while. I used to play when I was little. I kind of enjoy it.
Lumbis: When you were growing up, did you have to decide between hockey and racing?
Logano: Pretty much; it was one or the other. I missed half my hockey games, and then my team started to not like me because I was never there. So I said screw it, I’m going racing. I felt like it was the better decision… I think it worked out pretty good (smiles). I was never going to be a Sidney Crosby or anything.
Lumbis: Can you describe your first “meeting” with Mark Martin when he discovered you when you were 15?
Logano: Yeah, that was crazy. I was in Mansfield racing my Pro Cup (USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series) car and I won. He was in Dover, I think, and heard about it. I was like, “Holy cow, that’s nuts.” That was a pretty cool thing coming from someone like him. Mark Martin has been around here long enough to know what he’s talking about. That was cool, and something that really pumped my career up. It’s moments like that which have helped me get to this point.
Lumbis: Two of your favorite charities (David’s House and Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth) help sick children and their families. What drove you to support those charities in particular?
Logano: They are both near where I used to live, up in New Hampshire near the speedway. The Children’s Hospital had a breakfast at the speedway and I learned more about it. I went to the hospital and got to meet the kids, and it was just an amazing experience. It makes you feel better helping kids out like that. Coca-Cola also helps out with their “Chug for Charity” where they donate money to the charity of our choice, which is cool.