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Logano beats lofty expectations with Loudon victory

MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- The driver known as Sliced Bread popped out of the toaster earlier than anybody realistically expected by winning Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire.

Just 19 years, one month and four days old, Joey Logano became the youngest winner in series history, breaking a record held by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. And while Logano's rain-shortened victory was less than the scheduled distance -- the race stopped on lap 273 of a scheduled 301 laps -- a win is a win, and it took Logano just 20 races to drive to victory lane in NASCAR's top division.

Logano, who took over the No. 20 Home Depot car at JGR after longtime driver Tony Stewart left to become owner/driver at Stewart Haas Racing, was able to overcome a spin in the fourth turn on lap 184 that put him one lap down. But the youngster took advantage of situations later in the race by getting back on the lead lap on lap 191, and then stretching his fuel mileage to be in position to have the lead when rain began to fall.

Still, the real story is: despite Logano's racing talent as a child prodigy, nobody really expected the Middletown, Conn. driver to steer his way into victory lane this season. In fact, after watching Logano struggle in last November's race at Texas, the skeptics thought team owner Joe Gibbs had moved Logano up to Cup before Sliced Bread's dough had even risen.

Tall, young and gangly, this guy looked more like the Eric Foreman character from "That 70s Show" than NASCAR legends David Pearson, Bobby Allison or Dale Earnhardt. And when he faced Cup completion, Logano drove more like Kelso than Stewart.

But team owner Joe Gibbs and crew chief Greg Zipadelli realized the boy had talent, and they were willing to stand by the toaster until Logano popped out.

"This is so special," Logano said. "I think your first win no matter where it's at is huge. Obviously it's not the way you want to win your first race, in the rain, but 20 years down the road when you look in the record books, no one will know the difference. I'll take them any way I can. This is my home track and where I watched my first Cup race. A lot of the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing are from the Northeast so it's cool to get a win here."

With the old coach of the Washington Redskins at his side, and the savvy crew chief calling the shots, Logano's victory had equal amounts of luck, skill and strategy, but in NASCAR, those are all important elements to success.

"Half of this sport is about putting yourself in position to have a chance to win on Sunday afternoon, and that's what we did today and everything went our way," Zipadelli said. "You can almost run this race like a road course, unless you were in the situation that we were in, and we took advantage of it."

So in a world where everyone wants to spin the story forward, what could be more forward than looking at the career of Logano?

Already in victory lane before he is 20, he gives the sport a fresh face to go along with the mainstays such as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Stewart. But while he has already joined those drivers on the list of active NASCAR winners, it's still going to take a few seasons before this kid is championship caliber.

Logano may be young, but he is smart enough to realize it's going to take him a while to step up to the next level as a driver capable of winning most any race and contending for championships.

"Well, I figured out that this sport is a roller coaster earlier this season," Logano said. "One week you can win and the next week you can be 43rd, and it's just like that. I've figured out in other series that it's tough. It's motivating just to keep seeing yourself getting better, and working with Zippy and all of the guys and getting that communication going helps us improve a lot, too."

When Gibbs was coaching the Redskins to Super Bowl victories in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he had an eye for young talent. He also liked to have fighters on his team -- guys who didn't give up when things were going bad. He had one of the best fighters in NASCAR for 10 seasons when Stewart was the driver of the No. 20, but when Smoke wanted to start a fire on his own team, that created an opportunity for Logano.

"Zippy and his team last year, we were going to the racetrack knowing that they were going to be in the Chase, having a chance to win the championship," Gibbs said. "And this year, they know that Joey is young, they are fighting their guts out for every spot they can get. We figure we can keep this going, ride this thing for about 20 years. But I may not be here for the last ten."

Gibbs was optimistic that Logano would be his star of the future, but unlike another Redskins coach George Allen who believed "The Future is Now," the owner at JGR didn't quite feel that way in regards to Logano in 2009.

This was a season to learn how to win, but it was a little unrealistic to actually win.

"Do I need to tell the truth on that?" Gibbs asked. "We were really looking for just constant improvement, and that's really what we've seen. I've mentioned the last seven, eight races we've battled back from some real tough things. We did at Sonoma and we did again today and that's what we have been proud of."

Over time, Logano's talent will rise to the level and expectations required to become a star in Sprint Cup. He is with one of the best teams in the sport, has one of the best crew chiefs in Zipadelli to guide him and has a bullet of a race car in the No. 20 Toyota.

As he gets better, Logano's victories will come on a more reliable pace, just like finding a loaf of sliced bread at the supermarket.

Scott Dixon was able to win the race in the pits, and that was enough to win an IndyCar race that truly was the pits.

When Dixon beat Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dario Franchitti off pit lane with 161 laps left, he was able to cruise to victory in Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond.

The race featured just three lead changes among three drivers with Dixon's pass coming out of the pits the decisive move of the race.

"It was definitely tough to pass, so it was a definitely at a premium to stay up front and make sure you had some good tires underneath you," Dixon said. "It was a bit of a procession, unfortunately. It was very tough to pass because of the track. I think it's just the last couple of years we've really slipped into a car that is not enabling a whole lot of passing.

The big moment occurred on lap 138 when rookie driver Mike Conway of England crashed in the fourth turn while Franchitti was about to pit. Because the pits were closed, Franchitti got just a splash of fuel and had to return to pit lane once the pits were opened.

Because of that ill-timed chain of events, Dixon wound up in the lead. The top three cars driven by Dixon, Franchitti and Graham Rahal all pitted on lap 140 with Dixon getting out of the pits with the lead.

And that was pretty much what decided the 300-lap parade -- uh, race.

"I have to apologize to the fans because that was an awful, awful race," Franchitti said. "There's nothing the drivers can do about it. We're trying as hard as we can. It was a terrible race but the bright spot is a 1-2 for Team Target."

Tony George's future could be determined when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation holds another board meeting Tuesday.

This meeting may help clarify what Tony George's role will be with the family holdings. A board meeting held on May 26 after the Indianapolis 500 led to speculation and reports that George had lost his role as IMS CEO while maintaining his position as the CEO of the Indy Racing League.

That forced Mari Hulman George to issue a statement saying her son was still in charge of both IMS and the IRL, but the family wanted him to "devise a plan for management of Hulman & Company, the Indy Racing League, Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that would allow him to focus on the business which requires the greatest attention."

While George maintained the title of CEO, it appears that some of his power has been stripped. Another board meeting two weeks ago had IMS president Joie Chitwood, III, and IndyCar Series presidents Terry Angstadt and Brian Barnhart appear in front of the board to update them on the financial status of each entity they are in charge of.

George now has unified support of the IndyCar Series team owners, who signed a letter of support and sent that to Mari Hulman George at the end of May, asking her to keep George in power of both the Speedway and the IRL.

The family-controlled board includes George's mother, Mari Hulman George as the Chairman of the Board. Her three daughters, Nancy, Josie and Kathi Conforti, Tony George and Indianapolis attorney Jack Snyder are the other members of the board.

After last fall's financial collapse led to an economic downturn in the United States, the three sisters voiced displeasure over how much money has been spent to support the Indy Racing League since it began its first season of competition in 1996.

The worst-case scenario is that George is no longer able to use Speedway money to financially support the IndyCar Series, making it succeed or fail on its own financial merits. And in today's economic conditions, it could stunt the growth of the sport just at a time when it was recovering from a 13-year split with CART/Champ Car that came to an end with last year's unification.

Financial uncertainty, and past-due sanctioning fees to both NASCAR and the IndyCar Series have left the future of the Milwaukee Mile in doubt, which could lead to that track being dropped by both series in 2010.

According to sources, when Claude Napier's Wisconsin Motorsport took over the track, he also assumed some of the previous debt incurred by the previous promoter, Milwaukee Mile Holdings LLC. According to a story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the promoter owes NASCAR money from the Camping World Truck Series Copart 200 and the Nationwide Series NorthernTool.com 250 held on June 20. Napier would not disclose attendance for the truck race other than the turnout was low but acknowledged the Nationwide crowd was in "excess of 35,000 fans."

Napier also told the Milwaukee newspaper that the track would lose money this year. The Legislative Audit Bureau, which recently completed an audit of Wisconsin State Fair Park, said in its report that the Mile would lose money this year, putting added fiscal pressure on the fair.

"The sanctions fees are part of an overall deal," Napier said Friday. "We have been working closely with NASCAR in resolving these issues.

"I don't want to get into specifics about what we owe and what we don't owe. We are working very closely with NASCAR and in particular we are working on the future."

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston issued a statement that said, "Despite having a terrific day of NASCAR racing last Saturday there remain outstanding issues which concern NASCAR. As a matter of policy I won't get into the specifics of our business dealings. However, I can say we are working closely with the track management to resolve outstanding issues."

According to the Charlotte Observer, the NASCAR competitors were paid.

Napier blamed the losses on advance ticket sales for the races made last year by previous race promoter. He also said NASCAR's decision to cut testing at racetracks would cost Wisconsin Motorsports much-needed revenue.

"Wisconsin Motorsports didn't get the benefit of any of that, although we agreed to honor the tickets," Napier said of the advance ticket sales last year. "It definitely made things fall a little short."

Evan Zeppos, a spokesman for Milwaukee Mile Holdings, the former race promoter, said it was Napier, a former executive with Milwaukee Mile Holdings, who would have been in the position of collecting that ticket revenue in 2008.

"He sold the tickets and he spent the money when he was with us," Zeppos said.

When Kyle Busch rear-ended Martin Truex Jr. on a restart at New Hampshire on Sunday, it triggered a chain-reaction crash that knocked Truex and others out of the race. Truex was so upset; he threatened to throw his helmet at Busch's Toyota as it drove by under caution before climbing into the safety vehicle.

"I'm not sure what happened in front of us, either the No. 88 [Dale Earnhardt Jr.] or the No. 2 [Kurt Busch] spun the tires," Truex said. "I'm not sure who it was but I was just staying in line doing what I could do to get going and obviously you can't pass before the start/finish line. And I guess Kyle [Busch] just decided he didn't want to lift, so I was just an innocent victim today. Someone spun the tires and our lane didn't go. Kyle just lost his head like he usually does when something bad happens. He decided he wasn't going to lift; he was going to turn me on the straightaway for no good reason at all. We have a tore up race car."

When asked if the crash was a product of the double-file restart, Truex took another shot at Busch.

"No, that is the product of one guy making a mistake," he said. "Simple as that."

After the race, Busch took responsibility for the crash.

"Unfortunately, I have to apologize to all those guys," Busch said. "We got bottled up there in turn one -- especially Martin and Jeff Burton and those guys. I meant nothing of that. The 88 spun his tires on the restart, I went to choose a lane, went to the middle and the 42 [Juan Pablo Montoya] and I got together a little bit. That pinched me with the one [Truex] and I spun the one out and it was just mayhem from there. I hate it for all those guys because I know they've got 'Chase' contentions too. We were just battling for every spot out there today."

"The Brickyard is always special. It is just for me such an important race for us. For me and my career, I am just so thrilled and excited that I have won at the Brickyard. I still feel that way. It is still an extremely important race for us to go and compete at. I think it is still important for motorsports, important for NASCAR. But just for me personally, I just love going and competing there with the history and knowing me going there as a kid, going to the museum and doing different things. Just walking around that track, thinking what a dream it would be to someday race there. Now, getting the chance to do it is fantastic." --Jeff Gordon on next month's AllState 400 at the Brickyard.

"We didn't do well at short tracks last year, but this year they've been a lot better for us. I think getting track time to know what the cars need to do has been the key. We'll see what happens at Bristol and Martinsville when we go back. Those weren't too stellar for us earlier this year. I think we're going to have some real good days coming up here. That's what we need to keep doing. We had a pretty darn good point's day today." -- NASCAR driver Sam Hornish, Jr., who ran as high as third place before finishing eighth in Sunday's rain-shortened contest at New Hampshire.

"You can't pass with these cars. It's really tough, and it's been like that forever. You've just got to be in the right position. You know, there was some passing going on, but not a whole lot." -- NASCAR driver Greg Biffle on the frustrations of passing on a flat one-mile oval with the current generation of race car used in NASCAR.

Auto racing and the Fourth of July seem to go together very well, and that is what Bill France thought when he started running the "Firecracker 400" on July 4, 1959. Because it was so blasted hot in Daytona Beach, Fl, in July, the starting time for this race used to be 10 a.m. which meant it was over by 12:30 in the afternoon, which gave fans and team members a chance to actually spend the remainder of the Fourth of July at the beach. It held that July 4 date through 1987 before NASCAR moved it to the Saturday closest to July 4. A night race since 1998, this year's event will fall on July 4 for only the second time since the Saturday date change and the first since 1992. It's all the action of restrictor-plate racing, only under the lights which means fireworks during and after the race.

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