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ThatsRacin.com


Logano has one-track mind

THATSRACIN.COM OPINION

Tuesday, May. 19, 2009

HUNTERSVILLE - Joey Logano walked into our interview Tuesday looking every inch the 18-year-old kid he is. He wore a black T-shirt, wrinkled khaki shorts and flip-flops.

Logano is mostly arms and legs. He's 6-foot-2 and, according to his official biography, 140 pounds.

I ask about the 140. "No, 150!" Logano protested. "C'mon, don't cheat me out of 10 pounds!"

Logano has dark hair and a quick laugh – especially when watching his favorite actor, renowned thespian Adam Sandler, in the masterwork "Happy Gilmore."

And this is the future of NASCAR?

Too soon to tell, but it might be. Logano picked up the nickname "Sliced Bread" a couple of years ago, as in "the greatest thing since." His rise through the driving ranks has been nothing short of meteoric.

On Sunday, his 19th birthday, Logano will pilot the No.20 Home Depot car made famous by Tony Stewart in Logano's first Coca-Cola 600. And believe me, it won't faze him.

Logano, after all, learned to drive an old red Honda Civic on his parents' 10 acres in Connecticut.

With a stickshift.

When he was 7.

With the aid of some pillows and wood blocks that allowed him to see over the hood and press the pedals, Logano tooled around the property, listening to the AM radio's static and the motor's hum. He never wanted to get out.

"I'd just drive around in circles all day," Logano said. "And I still drive around in circles all day. Nothing's really changed."

Joe Gibbs Racing put Logano into his seat in the No.20 Cup car a year earlier than planned. "Originally, Joey was going to do one more year in the Nationwide Series first," said J.D. Gibbs, team president at JGR.

Then Stewart and JGR split up when Stewart got an opportunity to be a co-owner and a driver in the Cup series. Logano got Stewart's old job. He now drives in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series most weekends.

"There's a big learning curve, obviously," Gibbs said. "But Joey is gifted in the car and does a heck of a job out of it, which to a lot of guys is the toughest part. We think he'll be a star for many years to come."

Logano has been more successful in the Nationwide Series (he's fourth in points) than the major leagues. He's 30th in the Sprint Cup standings. In last weekend's all-star race, he finished eighth after fans voted him into the field.

"On the Nationwide side, I feel like I should win every one of those things," Logano said. "And I'm starting to feel that on the Cup side now."

After a bumpy start, Logano's two top-10s in NASCAR'S signature series have come during the past three races. He said he would be "surprised" if he wins the 600 this weekend, but that he wouldn't be surprised if he wins his first Cup race not long after that.

I remember interviewing Jeff Gordon during the mid-1990s, when Gordon was in his early 20s and just coming into his own. Gordon had his own nickname then – "Wonder Boy." Like "Sliced Bread," people sometimes used that nickname respectfully and sometimes derisively.

If Logano is anywhere nearly as good as Gordon – and veteran driver Mark Martin predicted Logano would "absolutely, without a doubt" be one of the all-time greats when the kid was only 15 – then Joe Gibbs Racing has captured lightning in a bottle.

Certainly, Logano is more happy-go-lucky than Gordon was early in his career. Gordon worried more then about pleasing every person he came into contact with than Logano does now.

Even though what Logano is trying to do is analogous to taking a gifted teenager and starting him at quarterback for an NFL team, he seems almost carefree.

"I don't look into stuff that deep," Logano said. "I just want to go racing and win every race I'm in. I'm just myself. I don't try to be special for anyone. I'm going to be professional, yeah, but I'm still going to smile and have fun. We're not here for a long time – but we're here for a good time."

Scott Fowler: 704-358-5140; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com.