He may only be 19 years old, but Joey Logano has quietly emerged as the front-runner at Joe Gibbs Racing early in the 2010 season. Teammates with preseason title favorite Denny Hamlin and the always-threatening Kyle Busch, Logano was nowhere to be found in many media predictions. Yet three races into the year, the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota sits eighth in points – not only better than the Hamlin/Busch duo, but armed with the only top-five finish Joe Gibbs Racing’s secured all season.
Just a few short weeks ago, it didn’t look like things would turn out this way. But after getting caught up in one of the many late-race incidents in the Daytona 500, Logano rallied from that 20th-place finish to score a fifth in Fontana and a sixth last week in Las Vegas.
“That’s two weeks in a row; I am really excited about that,” Logano said after Vegas, the first time he’s posted back-to-back top-six finishes in his short Cup career. “I tell you, you keep getting top 10s and closer to the top five; eventually, the wins are going to come. I’m pretty pumped up about how we did here.”
Yet while Logano is pumped about his performance thus far in 2010, his teammates do not have a lot to be proud of. Neither Busch nor Hamlin has finished better than 14th. Busch sits 12th in points after finishes of 14th, 14th and 15th, while Hamlin is 22nd in the standings and without a top-15 finish. As potential threats to dethrone Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports, these two have not even come close.
Instead, it’s the sizzling sophomore taking the reins over at JGR; and what seems to separate Logano from his teammates this season is his maturity and down-to-earth mentality. Wait a minute; the thing that is leading to the 19-year-old kid’s success is his maturity over his older teammates? Bingo.
As a bright-eyed rookie, Logano took last year to adapt himself to big time stock car racing. Viewed by many as a child prodigy behind the wheel of a racecar, the Connecticut native earned the nickname “Sliced Bread” as he came up through the ranks. With impressive focus and determination, the first-year driver never let the hype and attention get to his head as he made the transition to the Sprint Cup Series.
Now in his second year, Logano has a year of experience – and mistakes – under his belt to learn from. With the assistance and grounding of champion crew chief Greg Zipadelli, the youngest driver in NASCAR is starting to look years beyond his age.
His teammates, however, have showed they both have some maturing to do. As THE preseason favorite, Hamlin’s chances at his first title took a major blow when he tore his ACL playing basketball less than a month before the start of the season. While he claimed the injury would not affect his performance on the track, his stats just three races into the season seem to prove otherwise.
Along with being the preseason favorite, many have started to look to Hamlin as a new prominent voice in the garage. His performance late in 2009 showed he was a serious contender, and his continued spats with Brad Keselowski proved he was not willing to take any crap. But considering this early slump, all of his late season success and increasing prominence in the garage may have gone to the 29-year-old’s head.
With little success thus far in the Sprint Cup Series, Hamlin ran second to Kevin Harvick in Saturday’s Nationwide race in Las Vegas. When media members had no questions for him following the runner-up performance, Hamlin seemed to take it personally, tweeting,
@Kylebusch well me and carl walked in media center.. Not 1 question asked.. Not 1. And we wonder why we can't grow this sport
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) February 28, 2010
As for Kyle himself, he has always been known as a controversial driver that is never afraid to push the envelope. An incredible talent behind the wheel, the younger Busch brother is known for his short temper and cocky attitude. That mentality has earned him both trophies and cheers/heckles from the crowd, but has also given him a false sense of security.
After scoring eight wins in 2008, Busch looked to be the favorite to win the Chase. But it wasn’t meant to be. Entering the final 10 races as the points leader, Busch scored only four top-10 finishes, had five finishes outside the top-15, and was forced to swallow a 10th-place finish in the standings. To make things worse, in 2009 Busch failed to make the Chase despite four victories.
Unlike his older teammates, Logano isn’t tweeting frustration or letting emotion get the better of him; instead, he has kept his head low and his focus straight ahead. Except for a few run-ins with Greg Biffle in the Nationwide Series, the youngster has been able to learn under fire and grow as a racecar driver without ruffling the feathers of the veterans. Not letting the hype and potential for success get to his head has allowed Logano to find himself in the position he does now, competing for wins week in and week out – something his teammates cannot say at this point in the season.