When Joey Logano made his NASCAR debut at New Hampshire Motorspeedway on September 14th, it was among the most widely anticipated debuts in NASCAR history. Bear in mind, this is a kid whom none other than Mark Martin, he of 35 career wins and limitless respect inside the garage, once famously referred to as "the real deal." Perhaps an even greater indication of the pressure on Logano, who turned all of 18 years old on May 24th, was the preseason concern that NASCAR would raise the age limit for eligible drivers to 21, a move that would delay Logano’s career considerably.
Logano and his team, Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), dodged that bullet when NASCAR made no changes that would impact Logano, and the pieces were in place for him to begin his career with as little pressure as The Next Big Thing could hope for. But when, in early July, two-time champion Tony Stewart announced that he was leaving JGR to start his own team, life got just a little bit more complicated for Logano. A few weeks later, things got a lot more complicated when JGR named the 18-year-old to replace Stewart, winner of 33 career races in its No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.
The Logano rollout plan, however, remained the same: Quietly introduce the new kid on the block to Cup racing by putting him behind the wheel of Hall of Fame Racing’s No. 96 for five races, giving him a chance to ease into his career. That was the theory at least.
But then came that much anticipated debut at New Hampshire, where he finished an unimpressive 32nd — bad, but not disastrous and easily attributable to youth, inexperience, etc. But when his next race, two weeks later, resulted in a 39th-place finish at Kansas, things clearly went off the rails a little bit: Late the following week, JGR and Hall of Fame Racing announced that Logano would not drive in any other races for Hall of Fame Racing in 2008.
Whatever the reasons behind that decision — whether it was made in order to protect Logano from the frustrations of flailing at the back of the pack or to preserve the intrinsic value of Gibbs’ considerable investment — JGR put Logano into its No. 02 car at Texas on November 2nd. Unfortunately, the results were no better and Logano struggled, finishing 40th, seven laps behind race winner Carl Edwards.
While it’s hard to make any over-arching assessment of Logano’s future off three races, there’s almost no question he has a long way to go. In short, The Home Depot might want to seriously reconsider the virtue of this otherwise clever ad it released not long ago …