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Auto Racing

Legal At Last, Logano Set For Nationwide Debut

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: June 1, 2013 at 04:10 PM

Joey Logano reached the legal age to race at NASCAR's national level just four days ago, and there's still only one way to describe his Nationwide Series debut this weekend at Dover:

Long-awaited.

The lanky 18-year-old has been stock-car racing's top prospect for years. Mark Martin proclaimed him a future all-time great when he was 15. Joe Gibbs Racing signed him to its driver development program before he turned 16.

Logano beat Kevin Harvick in a Grand National East-West race at Iowa Speedway at 16 and won the Grand National East championship at 17. He made his first ARCA start this month at Rockingham and dominated.

The kid is ready - just ask him.

"I can't wait to get there," he said Tuesday about Dover. "But it's still another race. It's a racetrack. There's nothing that out of the ordinary."

Logano will run 18 of the remaining 22 races in NASCAR's No. 2 series. He will drive a No. 20 Toyota that with crew chief Dave Rogers has been to Victory Lane six times with Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. JGR has won eight of the 13 Nationwide races this year, so Logano will have fast equipment.

"It's not like you're going to go out there and have a best finish of 20th place because that's all you've got in the car," Logano said. "I've got a car good enough to run up front, so that's a good deal."

If Logano is successful, he could move up to Sprint Cup as soon as next year. He is JGR's first option for a fourth team the company plans to start in 2009 or 2010. He's also an insurance policy in case two-time champion Stewart, 37, leaves after next year.

"With Tony's deal, we're together through next year," JGR president J.D. Gibbs said. "At some point, obviously in 2010, he can choose whatever direction he wants to go. Our hope is it would be here, but if that's not the case, you have Joey sitting there and you have some other opportunities, too."

Logano celebrated his 18th birthday Saturday at Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway with a 150-pound cake. The weight of the expectations on his shoulders is much greater.

Because he has won at every step, and because more attention is paid to developmental drivers than ever before, Logano is a more heralded prospect than Jeff Gordon was in the early 1990s.

He sounds neither unnerved nor cocky.

"There's a lot of hype, but it's not because I want to put hype on it," he said. "It's the media putting all the stuff into it. I'm here to race. All the hype kind of goes out the window as soon as the race goes green."

Gordon, now a four-time champion, made his debut in NASCAR's No. 2 series at 19 in 1991. He started second, crashed and finished 39th at Rockingham.

Kyle Busch, who is tearing up NASCAR this year at age 23, made six Craftsman Truck Series starts in 2001 at age 16 before the minimum age was raised to 18. In his debut, he started 23rd and finished ninth at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

Logano, whose father, Tom, owned a hazardous-waste disposal company in Connecticut, got his first go-kart at age 5. From the time he was 7, he drove anything and everything: the family's Chevy Suburban, a forklift, a 40-foot motor home, a Bobcat.

He won big in quarter-midgets, Bandoleros and Legends cars. At age 12, he entered the Pro division at the Legends Grand Nationals and won. He drove an ASA late-model stock car at age 14, and became the youngest winner in USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series history at age 15.

"I am high on Joey Logano because I am absolutely, 100 percent positive, without a doubt, that he can be one of the greatest drivers that ever raced in NASCAR," Martin said in 2005.

Logano is not intimidated by the Nationwide Series or Saturday's race at Dover's "Monster Mile."

"I've raced my whole life," he said. "That's what I am. That's what I do. I don't know what else I would be doing. I guess I'd be throwing garbage cans or something."

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