Joey Logano is working to deflect the pressure of expectations he faces in his full-time debut in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver knows that he'll draw an unusual amount of attention in his rookie season.
First, he'll attract it because he's taking over the two-time Cup championship No. 20 team from Tony Stewart. Crew chief Greg Zipadelli, who led the team to those titles, remains and will guide Logano through his opening year.
Second, he's also carrying the weight of being the youngest driver in the Cup series - and one many expect to win right out of the gate. After all, that's what the 18-year-old has done in other series through the years, including the Nationwide Series, where he debuted just days after reaching the age limit of 18 last spring. He won in his third start and made a total of 19 in the series, in addition to three Cup starts, last season, just a year after he won the Camping World East championship.
Adding to those expectations are his new teammates, who are not only working to make Logano's transition as smooth as possible but are also relying on him to have an impact on the team this season. The young team - Denny Hamlin is senior among the drivers at 28 while Kyle Busch is 23 - has embraced the rookie.
“Joey brings a lot of youth and enthusiasm, of course," Busch said. "It’s good to have a young kid on the team, and I think he’ll do well."
Busch can understand what this season promises for Logano. He, too, entered NASCAR at a young age and with high expectations, so he brings a unique perspective to his relationship with his younger teammate.
“I think it’s fun - my brother [Kurt Busch] had it for myself," he said. "Jeff Gordon was young when I was watching him, and he became my leader, sort of. I think it’s nice to have that and have kids follow you and do what you want to do or what you have done. For Joey to come in this year, I think learning from me he’s learned the good things and not any of the bad things. I think he’ll be fine. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and good leadership his way so he will be good.”
Still, the pressure is there.
Logano downplays his situation, pointing out that he's felt pressure over the years as he made his climb toward NASCAR. He thinks that can help him now.
“Personally, I’ve been through a lot of pressure through my whole career really," he said. "From signing with Joe Gibbs Racing to last year jumping in the Nationwide car. All of that stuff is a lot of pressure. Yeah, it has ramped up a little bit more, but I think having all of that pressure has got me prepared for this moment, so it’s not as big of a shock for me.”
Logano is trying to keep a realistic perspective on his rookie season, but he's also optimistic about his chances - especially since he is joining a team that has historically been this competitive. Although there was no official preseason testing at tracks sanctioned to host Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Truck, East and West series races this season, Logano is running in the ARCA series at Daytona and in some Nationwide races to get more time on the track.
Logano doesn’t rule out the possibility of a victory this year.
“You never know," he said. "We’re going to try to win every race. I think that’s the right attitude to go into it. Realistically, it’s really hard. This is the top, the best of the best, and winning a race here is harder than anything else, I think. We’re going to try really hard.
"I know I’ve got a team that can do it. I know that I don’t have the experience behind me yet, but I’ve got a lot of Nationwide races here, and I’ve got a lot of Cup races coming up. I will get all of my experience there and hope the wins will come.”
Logano will do so with the guidance of a group that is used to finding success in the series. All three JGR teams made the Chase For The Sprint Cup last season, including the No. 20 team that Logano has inherited. It's understandable that could increase his optimism entering the year. His teammates are just trying to make sure that Logano finds support no matter how his year goes.
“Joey has a ton of expectations," Hamlin said. "Especially with not being able to test, it’s going to be extra hard on him to get everything done early in the year. That’s probably why he’s going to have a few more growing pains than what he would have normally. He has tested so much for us last year that he’s got more laps around the race track than what we do.
"I think it’s just a matter of getting him and Greg’s communication down. That’s one thing that me and [crew chief] Mike [Ford] did early." - www.scenedaily.com