NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Joey Logano

Joey Logano

2011 Ride: No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
2011 Primary Sponsor: Home Depot
2011 Owner: Joe Gibbs
2011 Crew Chief: Greg Zipadelli
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 4 top fives, 6 top 10s, 2 poles, 24th in points

High Point: The truth is there weren’t many high points for the 21-year-old Connecticut native in 2011, as he authored his worst season – statistically speaking – in his three years as a full-time Cup driver with Joe Gibbs Racing. Certainly, when compared to his 2010 campaign (seven top fives, 16 top 10s, 16th place overall), Logano regressed significantly.

To that end, one of the very few high points for the kid known as Sliced Bread might just have been Carl Edwards‘s decision to stay with Ford and Roush Fenway Racing rather than jumping ship. Rumor was that Joe Gibbs Racing had made heavy overtures to the 2011 season runner-up to slip into the number 20 Toyota Camry in 2012.

As it was, Edwards re-signed with the only team he had ever driven for and Logano was safe, so it seems, for at least another year. One small glimmer of positivity on-track were two fine runs on the road courses, finishing sixth in the wine country of Sonoma and fifth at Watkins Glen. But on the ovals… let’s just say “high points” were certainly at a premium for Logano in 2011.

Low Point: You can make a pretty compelling case that for Logano the low point was the entire 2011 season. Much was expected of the highly touted youngster as he began his third full year, historically a breakout period for superstars like Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton in the past and many, myself included, tipped him to make the Chase. How silly does that prediction look with the benefit of crystal clear hindsight? For Logano, the hope is 2011 was an aberration and not the norm; otherwise, he might just find himself looking for gainful employment outside the ranks of JGR by the end of next year.

Summary: Logano took a full eight races to register his first top 10 (10th at Talladega) and 12 races to record his first top five – a third-place finish, equaling his season best, at the Coca-Cola 600. A third-place performance at Daytona in race 17 did little to hide how disappointing the opening half of the season was for Logano, who also racked up nine finishes of 23rd or worse.

Expected to challenge at Kentucky in July, where had such great success in the Nationwide Series, Logano could only muster a 14th-place finish and although he led a season-high 44 laps in the second Pocono race – he led just 58 laps in total in 2011 – he couldn’t find the finish and faded to 26th place. Following a solid top-five run at Watkins Glen (race 21), just days after learning the No. 20 was his for 2012, Logano didn’t muster so much as a single top 10 in the last 15 races of the year. That being said, Logano still managed to rake in just under $4 million in prize money despite an average finish of 19.1.

Team Ranking: Third of three. Despite the troubles of both his more senior teammates, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, both still won races and made the Chase. With all the resources at Logano’s disposal, not to mention the veteran savvy of crew chief Greg Zipadelli, this season should have turned out much better than it did.

Off-Track News: Unlike 2010, when a contretemps with Harvick and Pocono and arguably one of the best interviews of the year – the infamous “we all know who wears the firesuit in that family” line – Logano was as quiet off-track as he was on it. After the season, he did announce a special trip to visit a U.S. Army base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as part of a Holiday NASCAR-USO Tour this week.

2012 Outlook: More, much more, will be expected of Logano in 2012, that’s for sure. But if he is ever to live up to the early hype, the key could be a new veteran on top of the pit box. Zipadelli is rumored to be leaving, taking a job as Stewart-Haas Racing’s Competition Director and there’s no clear replacement at press time. Even if Zippy is forced to hang around, the way this team ended the season, without any momentum or clear sense of direction will be difficult to overcome by Daytona. Even additional funding, with Dollar General joining Home Depot as primary sponsor, won’t be enough to inject the confidence seemingly needed here.

2008 Frontstretch Grade: D
2009 Grade: C
2010 Grade: B
2011 Grade: D

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