Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Win = Confidence Boost?

That Joey Logano won the Nationwide Series Pepsi 300 at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday isn't much of a surprise -- unless one considers he passed Kyle Busch late in the race to do it. Perhaps the more pertinent issue is ... how does Logano's second career Nationwide win -- and his first this season -- affect the 18-year-old's confidence?

The Nationwide Series isn't a problem for Logano; in 24 career starts in the series, the Connecticut native has 17 top-10s and seven top-5s to go along with two wins. In the Sprint Cup Series, though, where Logano is piloting the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (taking the place of two-time champion Tony Stewart), the road has been rockier.

In 10 career starts in the Cup Series, Logano has an average finish of 32.3. His career-best finish is 13th, which he logged in Las Vegas back in March, but so far this season, Logano has logged finishes of 43rd, 26th, 30th (twice), 38th and 32nd.

Logano was probably the most-hyped driver to enter the Sprint Cup Series since Jeff Gordon in 1993, even earning the nickname Sliced Bread, as in "the best thing since ..." Mark Martin said Logano would be one of the greats when he was just 14, which was both high praise and tremendous pressure for a kid taking over a premiere ride following one of the modern-day legends of NASCAR.

Are his early struggles simply a case of growing pains? More than likely; Logano has the same equipment and resources at his disposal as teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. He has a champion crew chief in Greg Zipadelli. He has one of the best owners in the business when it comes to managing people in Joe Gibbs.

So what's the problem? Lack of experience.

It's easy to forget Logano is just 18 years old. He should probably be running the full Nationwide Series schedule, holding off on a full-time Cup run until next season. Stewart's decision to leave changed Gibbs' plans, though, and Logano found himself in one of the sport's best rides before he was ready for it.

Logano basically said so himself in the offseason.

Though the cars and competition between the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are different, Saturday's win could be the shot in the arm Logano needed. Winning a race of any kind could remind Logano that he has the talent, that it's a matter of time and experience before he starts showing that talent on the highest level of the sport.

In fact, the more Nationwide races Logano can win this season (he's only running 24 of them, concentrating on his Cup effort), the better off I think he'll be in the long run. Wins might not translate to results on the Sprint Cup side, but the confidence will keep Logano's head in the game and allow him to keep his head up when he bounces off the wall or he's in the garage with a torn-up race car.

Logano needs all the confidence he can get right now. The last thing he needs is to have things go so badly that he loses all belief in his ability as a race car driver, and the last thing he needs to do is be the next Casey Atwood.

He's ahead of his timetable, but results like Saturday could show Logano that he'll be just fine.

NASCAR Nationwide Series Pepsi 300 (Top 10 Finishers)
1. Joey Logano**
2. Kyle Busch*
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Kelly Bires
5. Carl Edwards*
6. Jason Leffler
7. David Ragan
8. Mike Bliss
9. Steven Wallace
10. Scott Lagasse Jr.

*led a lap
**led the most laps

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