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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Logano learned major lessons in 2010, should emerge as a star in 2011

When Joey Logano first came into NASCAR’s top divisions, he was a phenomenon expected to obliterate the record books. But he soon learned that just because people expect you to do great things, it doesn’t mean that will happen instantly – especially at the Sprint Cup level, where you are battling with the best in the business.

For much of 2010, Logano was hardly mentioned during the race broadcasts. He did little of note during many races. That changed late in the year. During the Chase, while he was not a top-12 driver, he earned more points over those 10 races than all but a handful of drivers. So if he had been in there, he’d probably have finished around 6th in points. He talled 7 finishes of 7th or better in the last 11 races.

But he wasn’t in the Chase due to his earlier struggles, so those great runs to end the year didn’t amount to anything, other than giving him some momentum heading into 2010 as he begins to click with crew chief Greg Zippadelli, who previously teamed wonderfully with Tony Stewart for a dozen years and is hoping to repeat that championship level of success with Logano.

In addition to struggling on the track, though, Logano had some incidents that hopefully have helped him grow as a person, which should help his on-track performance. First, there was the Kevin Harvick incident, after which he made the infamous comment that Harvick’s wife “wears the firesuit in the family”. This may seem childish to some, but I love it, as it showed the competition that just because he is young, that doesn’t mean Logano is willing to let people push him around. He was no longer some kid they could just push around.

The other incident came when Logano and Ryan Newman got into it later in the season, and Logano ended up whining about how Newman wouldn’t let him pass even though he was faster. He even called out other drivers’ names – including Tony Stewart – saying those drivers agreed that Newman was too rude on the track when faster cars were trying to get by.

In this incident, Logano came out looking like the idiot. First of all, you never complain that a driver didn’t let you pass. If you’re faster, go and pass him. The end.
Second, you don’t call out other drivers into the fight. Fight your own battles.

This incident, while it made Logano look bad at the time, hopefully taught him some lessons about how to interact with other drivers, both personally and through the media. I’m guessing that next year, you won’t hear him whining about other drivers like he did with Newman, you won’t hear him bringing other drivers into the mix for no reason. (and on a side not, his father – who Harvick and others rightfully called out for interfering in Logano’s business – was thankfully pretty quiet in the second half of the year.)

What you will see, I hope, is Logano continuing to stand up for himself, continuing to call out drivers who are disrespecting him on the track (though I doubt he can ever top that firesuit comment in terms of hilarity) and starting to rack up wins and finally making the Chase … something that should happen in 2011 if he can seize on that end-of-the-year momentum and start the year out strong.

Logano is still very young, and will be driving for another couple decades. I predict that his move toward becoming a star driver with championship potential is going to start in 2011.

Johnson almost repeats AP honor
Last year, Jimmie Johnson stunned the world when he won AP Male Athlete of the Year … I heard the cries instantly (“NASCAR’s not a sport” and the usual nonsense). Well, he almost did it again, with Drew Brees taking the honor and Johnson coming in second after the votes were tallied. Sorry, anti-NASCAR folks, but with five straight titles, those votes were deserved.

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