Joe Gibbs Racing and everybody associated with its No. 20 team is saying all the right things as far as Joey Logano and his 2009 season is concerned. No pressure. No expectations. We just want him to do the best he can.
Laudable, certainly, reasonable, absolutely. But after Logano’s three-race performance toward the end of last season — 32nd, 39th, and 40th, in that desultory order — you just have to know a whole bunch of people heaved a huge sigh of relief when the 18-year-old finished fourth behind Jeff Gordon on Thursday.
This is the kid, after all, who was not only hand-picked to replace Tony Stewart, who was not only labeled a natural by none other than Mark Martin, who has not only won everywhere and in every series he’s ever driven in, but who was also famously called the best thing since sliced bread by Randy Lajoie a few years ago. In other words, no matter what anyone will say for attribution, the fact is, there’s one hell of a lot of pressure riding on his performance.
As intense as that pressure was, is, and likely will be, it was made even more so by NASCAR’s decision to cancel all testing in 2009, including, obviously, preseason testing at Daytona. And so while Logano ran countless laps in testing for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008, he hasn’t had a lot of seat time at Daytona, increasing the likelihood of a rookie mistake.
And so when Logano crashed out of the Bud Shootout on the fourth lap, eliminating one more opportunity for quality seat time, the pressure entering Thursday’s Duel ratcheted up just a little bit more. And if finishing fourth in a meaningless race doesn’t prove a hell of a lot, it does at least lessen some of the questions and intense focus Logano would be subject to in the run-up to Sunday’s 500.
Of course, if he wrecks early Sunday …