Athlon Sports talks with one of NASCAR's up-and-coming drivers
In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.
Article originally published in 2009 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Joey Logano burst onto the NASCAR scene at Dover International Speedway in May last season, only a week after turning 18, the legal age to compete in one of NASCAR’s top three series. Driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the 18-year-old Logano started and finished within the top 10 in his first Nationwide Series appearance. Two weeks later, only three races into his Nationwide career, Logano became the youngest driver in series history to win a race, visiting Victory Lane at Kentucky Speedway.
But none of that was a surprise. Instant success was expected.
After living up to the hype in NASCAR’s so-called minor leagues, Logano kept his pace rolling, being named to replace two-time champion Tony Stewart in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in 2009 in the Sprint Cup Series.
Though he may have been pushed through the ranks at lightning speed, Logano says he’s ready. He credits his preparedness to his father’s devotion. And, though it’s an odd training ground compared to the fast-paced danger of racing at speeds nearing 200 miles per hour, he says his secret to success is not all of the testing miles he’s racked up, but rather simply sitting in his living room, playing video games.
Logano after all, was dubbed “Sliced Bread” by two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy LaJoie during his championship-winning Camping World East season in 2007. He is the youngest champion in that series’ history at 17.
After his June win in the Nationwide ranks, his solid performances continued through the remainder of the season, though he did not return to the winner’s circle. In running 19 races in 2008, Logano notched three poles, five top-5 and 14 top-10 finishes. In the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Logano snared the pole and finished 10th, clinching the 2008 owner’s title for JGR.
It’s been a pretty fast introduction to NASCAR. Could you explain your emotions through the learning process?
It has showed me that it’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, too. It’s been a learning experience, that’s for sure.
At the beginning, there was so much hype around you. Were you expecting all of the media attention? And do you remember the first time you were just watching TV and a commercial or interview you had done came on?
I think it’s neat. It comes along with it. It’s cool to be watching TV and see your car on TV in a commercial. That’s neat. Nationwide put that commercial out for the Nationwide Series. We were watching a race and all of a sudden it came on. I didn’t know anything about it. I thought, “Oh, that’s nice. Isn’t that cool?” It was neat to just be watching TV like you normally would and see your face come on.
You mentioned the Nationwide commercial about your debut. With that, and a few other things such as your nickname, were you confident that you could live up to the hype or was there a side of you that was a little apprehensive about all the attention?
I honestly thought I would go out there and win the first race. That’s how I go into any race. I think that’s the attitude you have to have going into it.
How has it been getting to know your crew chief in the 20 Cup car, Greg Zipadelli, and how are you building that driver/crew chief communication despite not being able to run any races together before the 2009 season?
We do work well together. We’ve known each other for a while now. Working at the shop, testing, and all of those things. I think we’ll be good. We’re getting to know each other a lot better. I didn’t really talk to him much before all of this began.
Your sponsor, Home Depot, has generally been targeted towards the older men, with families, that do home repairs. You are in a different generation, single and leading a different lifestyle. How do you target those buyers?
It is different, but Home Depot wanted to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing and it just worked out. They were with Tony when he came on over there so it’s neat that they are doing the same thing. It builds a lot of confidence in me. We’re going to do what we can to make them happy.
Aside from the performance of Joe Gibbs Racing as a whole in 2008, rate your level of disappointment that you weren’t able to get more than one win. Do you feel like the crew chief suspensions (Jason Ratcliff and David Rogers in the Nationwide Series) in the summer set the team back a bit?
It was a little bit of both. Obviously I would have liked to have more wins than just one. I think our team is capable for sure. It’s one of those things — you lose your crew chiefs, that doesn’t help you any, being a rookie and not having the guy there to drag you through it more. It’s been different. We’ve been in position to win a few more races. Eventually if you keep being in position, you’ll get them.
What are your plans for the Nationwide Series for 2009?
I’m not sure how many Nationwide races we have scheduled. I’d like to do the whole season, but I’m doing the full deal with Cup.
There’s been a lot of talk about the “new” car. Since you are new to the Cup ranks, you don’t have any bad habits in one of the older cars. There is also a lot to be said about the racing now, that it is a lot harder to pass. What are your thoughts about the cars?
It’s kind of like that in both series. The faster racetracks these days, if you get behind somebody, you don’t get that clean air. It’s real important to get that air. It’s totally different and you go a lot faster. That’s part of it but there are a lot of people complaining about that.
After saying that you were expecting to win right away in the Nationwide car, what are your goals next season during your rookie year in Cup?
We’ll go for Rookie of the Year for sure. We’ll see what we can do from there. I don’t set a bunch of goals. I’m not that type of person. I just do the best I can every time. I don’t have a goal for the year-end points or anything. I’ll just do the best I can.
With everything going on surrounding your move to Sprint Cup competition, how do you find time to enjoy just being 18?
I do some kid things. I get some off time here and there. At the end of the season, we have more of an off-time. During the season, we only get a day or two off and we’re back on the road again. I don’t have a bunch of time, but all of my friends race too. So they know how it goes.
One of the things that’s pretty well known about you is that you seem to be a video game expert. It’s also been said that they help you learn some of the racetracks before you actually race there. How does that help you when it comes down to race time?
Obviously it’s not the same as an actual racecar, but you get the feel of what the racetrack is going to look like, the shape of the racetrack and you know where the pits are, those types of things. There are things here and there that you can relate back over. It helps for sure.
Aside from racing, what other games do you like?
I play hockey a lot. Me and my buddies play hockey quite a bit. When we play that, it usually gets pretty brutal.
You’re a gamer, but are you a gambler? It’s been said that some of your teammates are into card games, poker. Do you ever get in on that?
I don’t know how to play poker. I don’t want to give my money away!
A lot has been said about your Dad and the support he gave you through your career. You won your first race the day before Father’s Day. Kids always want to make their parents proud, so what is it like for you knowing that he’s been able to see his dream for you become a reality?
He definitely did. Certainly when I was 6 or 7 years old. He put the time and money into it. To get me to (the) Joe Gibbs Racing situation. It’s amazing really, when you think about it. All of the time and money that he put into it when he could have been doing other things. He was always helping me on my racecars. There are not many fathers out there that will do that for their sons.