For every Jeff Gordon, there’s a Casey Atwood. There are those who arrive on the racing scene with great fanfare and deliver on their promise. On the other hand, NASCAR has seen its share of careers that never really quite got off the launching pad. Within the last five years, Brad Coleman, Stephen Leicht, Stephen Wallace, Jon Wood and others have come along as potential phenoms- only to either falter or just plain flame out.
Some guys don’t get a fair shake. In this writer’s opinion, Coleman and Liecht fall into that category. I would have said the same for Aric Almirola, and now he’s getting another shot in the hallowed 43 ride. Joey Logano hasn’t been one of those guys. For three solid seasons, Logano has piloted the high-profile 20 ride without much threat of losing it. Not only has he had seat time, Logano has done it all while racing for one of the top teams in the series, guided by a crew chief who doesn’t need a compass to find victory lane.
It’s not to say Joey Logano doesn’t have the chops to be a great driver. Mark Martin has seen more than his share of racing talent and was real high on the kid. Obviously, the Joe Gibbs organization wouldn’t have given him a shot, and they wouldn’t have been this patient if they hadn’t seen something in the driver who’s been racing, it seems, since he was in diapers.
He’ll get a fresh start this year, with Jason Ratcliffe atop the pit box. Ratcliffe has honed his skills working with Kyle Busch in the Nationwide Series, he’s done a good job of making the right strategic calls, all while having that positive attitude that Logano no doubt needs. Logano says the 20 team has hit the “reset” button, and given the underwhelming performance of the team in 2011, that’s without question a good thing.
Logano admits he’d had some growing to do, but to his credit, he hasn’t been a one-man wreckfest either. Who knows? Perhaps if he had come up a little more quietly, maybe the expectations would have been gauged a little more realistically. At least he hasn’t to live up to being named Earnhardt, Wallace or Pearson to live up to.
Trying to gauge young talent in racing is far from exact science. Given that, it’s hard to say what will come of Joey Logano. He’s certainly shown great promise in the NNS, and it would be unfair to characterize his Cup career as a disaster, because its been far from that. However, when you’re given the moniker “Sliced Bread,” there are great expectations placed upon you. While Logano hasn’t been Kevin Conway, he hasn’t exactly made anyone forget Jimmie Johnson either.While 2011 was a down year in general for Joe Gibbs Racing, at least Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin can say they won races.
The good news is Joey won’t need a monster season to improve on last season. A win (two would be even better), and a more consistent presence in the top ten, and by golly, Logano is back on the road to fulfilling his potential.
Whatever the case, given what’s invested in him, Joey Logano needs to provide his benefactors a return on their investment. This may very well may be there. If not, he could find himself in the same boat as his old bandolero buddy David Ragan- starting over a lower profile ride.
Other articles by Jim McCoy include: