Thursday, March 12, 2009
Rookie Logano soaking it all in
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- An 18-year-old kid wearing a T-shirt stood on the wooden platform just off of Turn 1 at Darlington Raceway.
Vroom! Denny Hamlin's car blew past and the kid's head turned, watching how it exited the corner and entered Turn 2, avoiding the wall that drivers brush more than perhaps any other in the Sprint Cup Series.
Vroom! Elliott Sadler's car sailed past and the kid's head turned again, looking for whatever tips he could on getting around NASCAR's oldest superspeedway.
"Just checking things out, watching and seeing if I can learn something," the kid said. "It's only a couple of hours from home. Not a big deal."
The kid was Joey Logano. This was how he spent a sun-splashed, 80-degree Wednesday afternoon on what is an off week for Sprint Cup drivers unless you're one of the four invited to this Goodyear tire test at Darlington.
He's never driven a race car around the 1.366-mile facility many say is the toughest on the circuit because of its unusual egg shape. His only experience on the rough surface came a few minutes earlier when Hamlin, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, took him for a spin in a rental car.
"That was scary enough," Logano said. "Don't sit on the right-hand side with a race car driver driving."
Many drivers will tell you that testing makes little difference in their Sunday performance. Not Logano. He would have benefited greatly from experience on a track that he's never circled until the Friday practice and qualifying session.
"Vegas was the same way," Logano said. "My first lap was in the pace truck 10 minutes before we go out and practice. How else are we supposed to do it?"
The first four races haven't gone exactly how Logano hoped or many predicted for one described as a phenom. He crashed and finished last in his debut at the Daytona 500. He finished 26th at California, 13th at Vegas and 30th at Atlanta -- the latter with a little nudge from the driver he replaced in the No. 20 Home Depot car.
"I don't know what he was trying to do there," Logano said of the late-race tap from Tony Stewart, who drove the car to two titles the past 10 years before going out on his own. "I haven't figured that out yet."
Logano hasn't figured a lot out. He's far from lived up to the preseason hype, ranked 33rd in driver and owner points. One slipup at next week's race at Bristol Motor Speedway and he could wind up out of the top 35 guaranteed a starting spot the following week at Martinsville.
"Yeah, man, of course you think about it," Logano said. "You don't want to think about it. You've got to go out and race."
That's why Logano was at Darlington instead of doing what most 18-year-olds do with a week off. He wants to soak up as much as he can to improve as fast as he can.
He even tossed his helmet and fire suit into the passenger seat of his Toyota FJ Cruiser just in case he was allowed a real lap around the track.
"You never know," he said. "You always keep your helmet and suit in the car no matter what."
And no, Logano didn't take a spin around the track in his Cruiser.
"I don't think the FJ will handle good around this track," he said.
But Logano believes he'll see marked improvement in the handling of his race car the deeper he gets into the season. He believes the next two races will be easier because aerodynamics that frustrated him at some of the larger tracks won't be a factor.
But for the rest of the week he'll go back to being an 18-year-old with a week off, although he's not entirely sure what to do.
"It's going to get cold and rainy and I'm pissed off about that, dude," he said. "I wanted to go to Myrtle Beach."