NASCAR: Third start nets first win for Logano
By Will Graves
SPARTA, Ky. ó Tom Logano had modest goals for son Joey when the 18-year-old prodigy made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut last month in Dover. The elder Logano thought it would take Joey maybe 10 races to reach Victory Lane.
The kid simply couldn’t wait that long.
Joey Logano became the youngest winner in Nationwide Series history Saturday night, cruising to victory in the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway in his third series start. Logano, at 18 years, 21 days old, broke the age record of 18 years, 10 months, 9 days set by Casey Atwood in Milwaukee in 1999.
“Three starts, two poles, one win. He’s OK,” quipped crew chief Dave Rogers.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver nicknamed “Sliced Bread” might be even better than that. Logano took the lead from teammate Kyle Busch on lap 147 and had little trouble the rest of the way after Busch’s night ended with a visit to the wall in the second turn with 37 laps to go.
“I expected to win here, I expected to win in Dover,” Logano said. “I have to win races. (Losing) is not even an option.”
Tom Logano watched from the pits as his son carefully guided his No. 20 Toyota over the final laps at the 1.5-mile tri-oval, then celebrated with what he called the best Father’s Day present ever.
“It’s golden baby! No. 1!” Tom Logano said.
“I was wondering what I was going to get for me dad,” Joey Logano said. “This should work for sure.”
Hailed as a prodigy by NASCAR star Mark Martin when he was just 15, Logano became the second Kentucky victor to win from the pole and the eighth different winner in eight races since the race’s inception.
The track has developed a reputation for rewarding young drivers with their first series victory. David Gilliland parlayed his win here in 2006 to a ride in the Sprint Cup.
It probably won’t take Logano long to join him. The way he dominated the field over the final 37 laps, the path to Victory Lane could become awfully familiar.
Logano flattened two tires while showing off for the fans after the race, a show of youthful exuberance that belies the steady hand Logano showed while making history.
It was a run that got considerably easier when Busch ran into trouble on lap 163. Busch started at the back of the field after missing qualifying, but wasted little time getting to the front. The Sprint Cup star needed just 40 laps to take the lead and led 85 laps before getting loose in the second turn. He finished 30th.
“I don’t know what exactly happened,” Busch said. “I got loose and hit the wall I guess.”
Logano, who said he consults with Busch often, would have liked the opportunity to race his teammate to the checkered flag. It appeared they would before Busch wrecked. The duo combined to lead 161 of the race’s 200 laps.
“It was unfortunate to see Kyle hit the fence, but I think our car was strong enough to maybe hold him off,” Logano said.
It was certainly strong enough to hold off the rest of the field. Logano said he prayed for green the last 20 laps because he was running so smoothly. He didn’t receive much of a challenge from second-place finisher Scott Wimmer, who never got closer than a speck in Logano’s rearview mirror.
“It’s really just hard to run with (Busch and Logano),” Wimmer said. “Really, all the Toyota’s really have it going on right now, but we hung in there.”
Mike Wallace was third and Brad Keselowski, who picked up his first victory last week in Nashville, was fourth. Series leader Clint Bowyer finished ninth after starting 25th.
While his cell phone buzzed constantly afterward with well-wishers, Logano hardly seemed ready to party. He’s been saddled with expectations for years, and admits it would seem “weird” if he didn’t feel the pressure to perform.
Team owner Joe Gibbs said before Logano’s debut that he only expected a first or second every time. Gibbs was kidding, but the combination of his team’s dominance and his young star’s talent could mean the joke is on the rest of the Nationwide Series.
The weight of getting the first victory out of the way, Logano is only too eager to prepare for the second.
“Now I can get rolling,” he said.