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NASCAR's Lucky Logano

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McClatchy-Tribune
June 29, 2009
— There is no question Joey Logano is the youngest driver to ever win in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.

What the record book will never show is whether he was also the luckiest.


In the lead with just a handful of laps remaining before he would take his turn down pit road to get fuel to make it to the finish, rain halted Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.


As rain continued, the race was red-flagged after 273 laps. When no letup appeared in sight, NASCAR called the race. Logano—at age 19 and never a serious threat to win all afternoon—was declared the winner.


“I figured out that this sport is a roller coaster earlier this season. I go up and down, up and down, up and down,” said Logano. “That is part of this sport. One week you can win and the next you can be 43rd and it’s just like that.”


Logano was first spotted as a 15-year-old by NASCAR star Mark Martin, who predicted greatness for the youngster. He been on the fast track ever since, winning races at every level and beating some of NASCAR’s top developmental drivers along the way.


To his embarrassment, Logano earned the nickname “Sliced Bread,” as in, “the greatest thing since ...”


For Logano, his first full Cup season has had many valleys and few peaks.


Through the first eight races , he had one finish better than 21st—13th at Las Vegas—and led a grand total of one lap.


But in his eight races before New Hampshire he had started to show consistency, with three top-10 finishes in one four-race span.


“Obviously this is 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,” Logano said. “I’ll take them any way I can.”


There were plenty of admirers around after the race to remind him of that.


Four time Cup champion Jeff Gordon paid a visit to Logano’s car on pit road shortly before the race was officially called. What did he say?


“It doesn’t matter how you win them,” Gordon said. “I just told him congratulations. I thought (the race) was over. And he was like, ‘Don’t jinx me, don’t jinx me.’ “


Logano was so close to an empty tank, it was possible his No. 20 Toyota could run out of fuel if NASCAR decided to keep the cars on the track for an extended period driving under caution. Gordon kept close to Logano’s bumper to ensure the young driver had to stay on the gas.


“I thought for sure he was going to run out based on what (my team) was telling me,” he said. “He still made it to pit road and (then) it was raining hard.”


It was the unlikeliest of endings to what had been a frustrating day for Logano and his Joe Gibbs Racing team.


Since qualifying was rained out, he was relegated to starting 24th. Twice he fell a lap down during the race and got back on the lead lap for the final time when a caution was displayed following Scott Speed’s wreck on Lap 190.


Bad weather was threatening most of the afternoon, and as the skies grew darker and the mist heavier Logano’s crew chief, Greg Zipadelli, elected to keep Logano out on the track as long as possible.


“Half this sport is about putting yourself in position to have a chance to win, and you know, that’s what we did today and everything went our way,” Zipadelli said.


“We were lucky, but we put ourselves in position because we were behind. Because we did have problems, it allowed us to pit, top off (the tank) with fuel.”


And for the second time this season, a rain-shortened race produced a first-time race winner.


“We were fortunate and we know that there will probably be some tough days out there for us,” said team owner, Joe Gibbs. “But (we’re) absolutely thrilled for Joey and his family and for us at Joe Gibbs Racing.


“We figure we can keep this going, ride this thing for about 20 years.”


Gibbs paused, then added: “But I may not be here for the last 10.”


Cambridge’s Matt Kenseth finished 22nd on the lead lap. Points leader Tony Stewart, who started on the pole after rain washed out qualifying, finished fifth. Kenseth and Stewart will compete Tuesday night at Madison International Speedway in the Swiss Colony All-Star Challenge, a 100-lap Super Late Model race at the high-banked half-mile track.


Stewart leads Gordon by 69 in the tandings.



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