Teen Logano savors joy ride
02-10-2009, 12:17 PM
Teen Logano savors joy ride
Teen Logano savors joy ride
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The well-wishers have come at Joey Logano from almost every part of Daytona International Speedway's garage. The 18-year-old driver has been inundated with nuggets of information about how to get around the track and handle the daunting draft in his Daytona 500 debut.
Sometimes it is solicited. Sometimes it is not. But in almost every instance, it has been welcomed.
Kyle Busch, Logano's talented teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, has helped with "a lot of on-track stuff," Logano said. Tony Stewart, the driver whom Logano replaced in the No. 20 Toyota after Stewart departed to start his own Stewart Haas Racing team, has helped with his endorsement of crew chief Greg Zipadelli.
"I feel like Joey is ready," Stewart said of Logano, who will become the youngest driver to start the Daytona 500 since Kyle Busch in 2005 at 19 years, 9 months, and 18 days. Clark Dwyer remains the youngest overall at 19 years, 1 month, 8 days in 1983.
"For his age, he's a very smart kid and a very good race car driver," Stewart said of Logano, who will be 18 years, 8 months, 22 days old when he starts Sunday. "I don't think he's going to have any trouble getting used to this [Sprint Cup] series and he's got a team and definitely a crew chief who's got a lot of experience. He's got all the tools in place that he needs to be good."
But the best piece of advice he has gotten so far?
"Just to have fun," Logano said, referring to the wisdom imparted by his team owner, Joe Gibbs, and team president, J.D. Gibbs. "Just go out there, work hard, do your best, but have fun with it. It's a long season. If you're going to beat yourself up every time, you're going to end up killing yourself. You have to have fun."
Since arriving at Daytona, that's what Logano has attempted to do.
After getting mobbed at Media Day last Thursday, Logano retreated to Daytona's Fan Zone, where he was joined by fellow Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate Scott Speed, 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman, and several media members for a race of radio-controlled cars. Logano, ever the competitor, ran circles around the competition, as his parents, Deborah and Tom, watched in amusement.
"I cannot believe that we're finally here," Deborah said, noting how it seemed like yesterday that her son was a 6-year-old, racing quarter midgets near their home in Middletown, Conn. "Now here we are at Daytona, playing with RCs. It's kind of backwards. We're here for the fun, and learning as he goes along. We're just going to enjoy the moment."
Asked what their nerves would be like the morning of the big race, Tom Logano cracked, "I'm pretty mellow, but Mother's going to be a train wreck. She's already a train wreck and we have yet to get started."
Terrified from the moment she sized up Daytona's daunting 2 1/2-mile, high-banked tri-oval, Logano's mother could barely watch her son roar around the track during a practice session Friday in his ARCA car. When her son climbed into his Sprint Cup car for a Budweiser Shootout practice that evening, Deborah Logano could no longer bear the sight of her son bouncing around in a tight nose-to-tail draft, so she retreated to the family's motor coach in the infield.
"A couple of times I felt like a pinball out there," Logano said after his first Cup practice. "I will say this is probably the one thing that I was worried about from when I got here.
"I'm glad this is out of the way. The car's in one piece and we learned a lot, so we keep working on it."
The practice seemed to do him little good in the Shootout, though.
After finishing runner-up to 18-year-old James Buescher in a stirring green-white-checkered finish in the crash-marred ARCA Re/Max Series opener Saturday afternoon, Logano hopped into his Cup car for that night's main event, the Shootout. Because he missed the drivers' meeting for the Shootout, Logano was relegated to the rear of the 28-car field, a penalty that wound up costing him when he was collected in a four-car mishap just four laps into the first 25-lap segment of the 75-lap Shootout.
"I felt like we had a decent car the first couple of laps," Logano said. "I was just trying to get a feel for it before we went up there and mixed it up with everyone."
The crash brought an abrupt end to what figured to be a busy day of practice and racing for the wunderkind driver whose experience in a restrictor-plate race was limited to an ARCA Re/Max Series event at Talladega Superspeedway last October.
Asked if he learned much from his abbreviated track time during the Shootout, Logano said, "It's hard to say, really, no. You're just getting a feel for the car and seeing what's going on, and by the time that happens, you get caught up in something. I really didn't get a chance to mix it up with them yet."
He'll likely get the opportunity Thursday when he participates in the Gatorade Duel, a pair of 150-mile qualifying heats that will set the remaining 41 positions of the 43-car field. But Logano will not have to worry about going home; he's assured of a spot because of his ninth-place standing among the top 35 in the 2008 owner points. Logano, who qualified 21st fastest during Sunday's time trials, can focus on improving his learning curve with his car, crew, and crew chief in the first five races of the season.
"He's not sure how the car is supposed to feel," Zipadelli said. "I don't know if he knows where his limits are; I don't know where his limits are, so I think we're going to take a little more conservative approach on the track and try to get it to drive a little better and not worry so much about the speed of it."
That was never much of a worry with Stewart behind the wheel. Now Zipadelli must help his rookie driver get accustomed to a whole new ballgame.
"Obviously, the last 10 years have been fun and it's been fortunate that we felt like we could go to most any racetrack and feel like we could win any given week if we were all together," Zipadelli said. "That part of it was fun and rewarding to think that we could do that, but, obviously, it's going to take some time to get back to that."
Said Logano, "It's a big deal filling in for Tony Stewart. He's obviously one of the best out there, and he's been in the car for 10 years.
"It's going to be tough for sure to live up to what he did. It is my rookie season - you have to give me a chance at least. From there, we'll keep working on it and see where we end up."