Search

Learning Curve

June 22, 2009
June 22, 2009

Table of Contents
June 22, 2009

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
KOBE BRYANT
PRO FOOTBALL
NHL FINALS
Departments

Learning Curve

A giant-killer on the Nationwide Series, 19-year-old Joey Logano is just coming to grips with the Cup car

Joey Logano seemsto have accepted his lot in life with an equanimity that belies his tenderyears. It can be a heavy burden to carry the nickname Sliced Bread (as in"the greatest thing since ...") when you're an adenoidal 19-year-oldrookie learning to drive perhaps the most unmanageable race car of the modernera on motor sports' most competitive circuit. But Logano doesn't shy away fromthe hype. Indeed, he features the sobriquet on his website. "What theheck," he says, "I've got a lot more pressure than just that, so itreally doesn't bother me much."

This is an article from the June 22, 2009 issue

The jump to Cupracing means driving a car that's more powerful and far trickier to handle thanlower-level rides, and doing it on a new track every week. Logano's ongoingNASCAR education is trending toward improvement—after finishing outside the top25 in six of his first seven races, he has run off three top 10s in his lastseven starts—but it can still produce uneven results. Witness his performancelast weekend. He won the Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway last Saturdaynight, then struggled to a 25th-place finish the next afternoon in the Cup raceat Michigan. "The Nationwide car and the Cup car are like night andday," he says. "It's like going from a Corvette to a tractortrailer."

But whileNationwide success hasn't translated directly to Cup wins, it has helped boostLogano's confidence. Despite skipping two of the 14 Nationwide races so farthis year, he has won twice and ranks fifth in the series standings. Two weeksafter his victory on April 11 at Nashville, where he led a race-high 95 lapsand beat Cup stars Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, Logano earned his first top 10finish at the Cup level with a ninth-place run at Talladega. "AfterNashville it was like, O.K., I'm not an idiot," he says. "I'm here fora reason."

Helping Loganoprove that point is his crew chief at Joe Gibbs Racing, Greg Zipadelli, who wontwo Cup titles in 10 seasons with Tony Stewart. Ignoring all the ballyhoo thatsurrounds his young trainee, the methodical and meticulous Zipadelli, 42, haszeroed in on increasing Logano's comfort at the Cup level. That effort got amajor boost from back-to-back ninth-place runs last month at Darlington andCharlotte, where, according to Zipadelli, the surfaces provide more grip to thetires. "When we went to Texas [on April 5], Joey was hanging on for dearlife," he says. "Now he's where at least he feels like he can tell youwhat he's feeling."

Currently 25th inthe Cup standings, 365 points out of 12th place, Logano has almost no chance toqualify for the Chase. But he seems well on his way to winning top rookiehonors. (Second-place Scott Speed trails him by more than 400 points.) Moreimportant, Logano appears to be laying a solid foundation for continuedimprovement. "I think you're a couple of years from seeing how good hereally is," says Zipadelli.

For a young manwho's lived his life in a rush—he made his Cup debut last fall at New Hampshireat 18—Logano is content for now to race and learn. There will be time forvictory soon enough.

Now on SI.com
Cup analysis from Lars Anderson plus Mark Beech's Racing Fan atSI.com/vault

PHOTOBRIAN CZOBAT/AUTOSTOCKWORK IN PROGRESS After a dismal start, Logano (inset) and his number 20 team have had three top 10s in the past seven races.PHOTONIGEL KINRADE/AUTOSTOCK (LOGANO) [Seecaption above]