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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Welcome to Daytona, Joey! First practice sessions are a wild ride for Logano

The car just wasn’t working for him.

Was it Joey not liking a setup likely based on data from Tony Stewart’s days in the car? Was it longtime #20 crew chief Greg Zipadelli not yet knowing what the kid likes in his race car? Or was it just first-day jitters for a teenager about to make his first Daytona start in a Cup car?

Whatever it was, Friday was a day of adjustment for Joey Logano and the #20 team, as well as the rest of the Shootout field, as the teams got to hit the track for the first time in 2009. Logano and others looked were very sideways at times as the teams tried to figure out what kind of car they had unloaded and how to fix it.

The only real highlights of the negative kind came when Paul Menard cut a tire and ended up wrecking Scott Speed. There was minor contact between Reed Sorenson and a few cars, but nobody got real hurt. Also, Kyle Busch got a little shove and some damage in the back (somehow I don’t think that’s the last time someone will hit him in 2009!).

So while it was quiet on the accident front, one thing was common -- very loose racecars. Logano, who normally doesn’t mind a loose car, was among those who struggled the most and never seemed comfortable in the car. The #20 team is a top-notch organization and will no doubt talk to Joey and figure out what’s going on, just how loose they can stay and still have him feel comfortable. This year will be an endless series of tests and learning experiences for Logano, especially when he goes to tracks where he has never driven a Cup car, which is pretty much all of them.

And some days, regardless of how good a driver he is, Logano is going to look like a nervous teenager when he’s out on the track. It’s hard to never be nervous when you’re age 18 and racing against the best in the sport on a weekly basis. This is a whole different ball of wax than the Nationwide Series, where he was immediately a big fish. In Cup, he’s a small fish until he does something to prove that he isn’t.

Friday’s practices were a microcosm of what this year will be for Logano. He’ll be presented with new situation after new situation, and how well he adjusts will determine how successful his rookie year will be. With so much pressure being placed on him to continue the #20 team’s winning history, it will be a true test of both ability and character.

Channeling A.J. Foyt
Tony Stewart’s longtime hero, A.J. Foyt, will be in attendance at the Daytona 500, in Stewart’s pit after accepting Tony’s invitation. But based on how he was driving in Friday’s practice sessions, it looks like Stewart won’t need any help going fast. As expected, a change of car didn’t change the fact that Tony is one of the best drivers at Daytona. As I’ve said in the past, the restrictor plate is the ultimate equalizer, and it makes it possible for cars that might not be up to snuff at regular tracks to compete for wins. (see: Regan Smith at Talladega in 2008)

I still think Tony and his new team will struggle some once the team goes to California and other nonplate tracks, but it’s clear he is still a contender at Daytona, and former 500 winner Foyt might be back in Victory Lane to congratulate the man who once idolized him as he came up through the racing ranks.

The other A.J. is fast, and he’ll need to be Thursday
You don’t want to put too much stock in Daytona practice speeds, but still it was nice to see A.J. Allmendinger running strongly in the top-5 during the first couple practices of the season. His #44 will have to race into the 500, and Richard Petty is apparently not happen that is the case. Petty claims NASCAR told him during the offseason that the #44 car would be guaranteed a spot, then all the point swapping began and their word proved false. My guess is this is more PR than anything … he’s been around NASCAR longer than anyone in the garage, and should know very well that what the bigwigs tell you one day might not be true the next. The NASCAR rulebook has long been written in erasable ink.

Yet another 500 entry
Just when you thought the list of entries was set, Mike Garvey has entered the #73 JaniKing Dodge and will attempt to qualify for the 500. That makes 57 total entries, meaning 14 drivers will be out of the lineup when the Duels are done on Thursday. If a few of these random entries gets lucky in the Duels, some of the more well-known teams may be left on the sidelines.

Cool CAT
Of all the drivers who changed sponsors, my vote for best-looking new car goes to Jeff Burton. His Caterpillar-sponsored car looked sharp, and had me seeing flashbacks to his brother Ward‘s days with the CAT sponsorship. Also sharp is the new UPS-sponsored car of David Ragan, which is an improvement over previous UPS car designs.

Harvick crew members can’t say no to drugs
Though they apparently knew the tests were coming, two pit crew members for Kevin Harvick Inc.’s truck team have been relieved of their duties after failing their recently mandated preseason drug test. So far, they’re the only announced failures, but we could see more as random testing will be done each week, including at least two drivers from each series. It was somewhat ironic that this team saw the first failed tests, as Harvick has led the fight for harsher drug testing in the sport.

This was all brought on by former Truck Series driver Aaron Fike (who once drove for KHI) saying he once raced under the influence of heroin, a mighty scary thought. I don’t foresee another driver doing something as stupid as Fike did, but it’s likely some crew members will take their chances during the year and end up fired as a result. There are many situations outside of the sport where I might argue against the need for drug testing, but when it comes to NASCAR this is the right approach. Lives are on the line every week, and anybody who is impaired and might make an error in judgment should not be in the garage.


Anonymous Joey Logano Fan said...

I think Joey will do just fine, and will gain a ton of experience in the Shootout tonight :)

February 7, 2009 at 5:55 AM 

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