Unreal expectations can ruin an athlete’s career. Yet every so often, they yield unreal results. Meet Joey Logano, NASCAR’s record-smashing prodigy, a young man who won at the sport’s highest level two years before he could take a legal drink. He’s legal now, and far more seasoned than when he took the racing world by storm in 2009. That’s bad news for his fellow drivers, who have seen him grow in stature and experience as one of the youngest “veterans” in the auto racing world. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Joseph Thomas Logano was born on May 24, 1990, in Middletown, Connecticut. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the second of Deborah and Tom Logano’s two children. His older sister, Danielle, was an accomplished figure skater. Deborah was also a top skater as a teenager.

Unlike many drivers who distinguish themselves at an early age, Joey had no roots in racing. The sport was not part of the family culture. Tom owned a sanitation business in suburban Connecticut. Joey became interested in trucks and cars as a 4-year-old, so his dad let him drive his company’s slow-moving water-spraying trucks. Later Tom bought an 8hp go-kart, moved the pedals up so Joey could reach them, and put a roll bar around it. 

It didn't take long for Joey to fall in love with racing. He drove his kart from sun-up to sundown. A worker at Tom’s garage had a son who drove a quarter-midget. He suggested that Joey give it a whirl. The kid was a natural. Joey entered his first race at age 6.

Tom didn’t get it at first. He coached local youth league baseball and baskteball teams, and pushed Joey into those sports. But Joey wasn't interested in doing anything where he couldn't go fast. When winter came, he drove go-karts on indoor tracks and also got his speed thrills on the ice playing hockey. He continued to play the sport through his teen years.

Joey first made headlines in 1997, when he won a quarter-midget race on the Eastern Grand National circuit at the ripe old age of 7. By 1999, the Loganos decided to move to Georgia to find better competition. Not for Joey, but for Danielle, who was becoming a world-class figure skater. The move turned out to be a blessing for Joey. His new home state lacked many of the age restrictions that governed racing in Connecticut. Joey kept driving and the winning continued. He raced to victory against teen drivers at age 9 in a 2000 Legends Series event.

In 2001, Joey won the Lowe’s Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway Bandolero Bandits division. And at age 12, he became the youngest driver to compete at the Pro Legends level. He went on to win a national championship. At this point, Joey’s driving had already caught the eye of NASCAR legend Mark Martin, who spotted him while watching his own son race. Martin assumed it was Tom’s crafty pit work that gave his boy the edge, but soon he realized that it was all Joey.

Martin called the Loganos to tell them their son was something special. He had once tabbed an unknown teenager named Matt Kenseth for future greatness, so he had an eye for talent. Also sniffing around the Loganos was Scott Zipadelli, whose older brother, Greg, was a well-known NASCAR crew chief. At this point, Tom figured out that Joey had a big future in racing. 

ON THE RISE

In 2004, Joey began competing in ASA Late Model Series races, where there were no age restrictions. Driving against adults, he more than held his own. The main irony of Joey’s life at this time was that he was trading paint with adults at 100-plus mph, but between races he was still an unlicensed driver. His sister Danielle often had to chauffeur him around town.

Everyone who spent time with Joey in his early teens came away with the same opinion. He was a born driver, a raw talent who sensed things about car and track as a boy that others spent a lifetime learning. He wasn’t just good for his age. He was good. Period. And he didn't yet weight 100 pounds!

By 2005, Joey was considered a bona fide racing prodigy. His family moved again, this time to North Carolina, so he could start soaking up Nextel Cup culture and begin talking to potential racing teams. Joey was only 14 when he competed in—and won—in the USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series. No one that young had ever won a race at that level. Martin, who was still watching Joey’s progress. proclaimed that, at 15, he was already good enough to take his seat in the #6 car for Roush Fenway racing.

Joey and his parents had assumed that he would sign a development deal with Roush. But negotiations dragged on for months, and Jack Roush himself expressed doubt about Joey’s future. Joe Gibbs swooped in and put a better offer on the table, and the Loganos signed.


 

 

 

 

 


Mark Martin, 1995 Classic Assets

     
 

Joey’s career took a giant leap forward in 2007 after NASCAR relaxed its age limit and allowed 16-year-olds to compete at the Grand National level—a development division started in 1987 for drivers, crews and officials. He drove in 13 East Series events, won three poles and five races, and finished atop the standings to claim both the series championship and Rookie of the Year honors. Joey also entered and won a West Series race in Arizona, driving a Gibbs car to victory. That fall he took the checkered flag at the Toyota All-Star Showdown at age 17.

In 2008, Joey got a ride with Venturini Motorsports’ ARCA team. In his first start, he drove to victory in the Carolina 500 at Rockingham Speedway. In that race, he out-dueled wily veteran Ken Schrader.

Joey scored an equally impressive vicotry at an ARCA event in upstate New York. On a tight half-mile track, he could not find his comfort zone and fell far behind in the race. Gradually, he began reading the difficult track and when the checker flag fell, he had crossed the finish line first.

In May, Joey made his long-awaited Nationwide Series debut. He finished a solid 6th for the Joe Gibbs Racing team in the Heluva Good 200 at Dover. Teammate Denny Hamlin won the race, but Joey got kudos for staying in the hunt after smashing into Kasey Kahne early in the race in a pit row mishap. Joey would have driven in the Nationwide Series sooner, but the rules said he had to wait until his 18th birthday.  

Two starts later, on June 14, Joey made headlines by winning the Meijer 300 at Kentucky Speedway. In doing so, he became the youngest driver to win a Nationwide Series race, eclipsing the record set by Casey Atwood nine years earlier. There was nothing flukish about the victory. Joey won the pole in qualifying, and he and teammate Kurt Busch dominated the race until Busch spun out. Joey finished off the competition with ease. 

In July, Joey won again. He and Busch were among the leaders late in the race when Busch pitted to get fresh tires and Joey decided to stay on the track. Joey won by five car lengths. He drove to victory four more times in the 2008 Nationwide Series.

That summer, Gibbs announced that Joey would replace Tony Stewart in the #20 car for the 2009 Sprint Cup Series. Stewart was leaving to drive for his own team. Meanwhile, Joey would get his feet wet at NASCAR’s highest level driving the #96 car for Hall of Fame Racing. The Hall of Fame counted among its owners ex-NFL quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman, and had a relationship with Gibbs dating back to 2006. Joey made his Sprint debut on September 14 and drove in a total of five races that fall.  

Just before heading to Daytona, Joey competed in the 2009 Toyota All-Star Showdown in Irwindale, California. He was running second to Peyton Sellers on the last lap when he rode the leader into the wall. Joey crossed the finish line first, but NASCAR disqualified him for dangerous driving. He was upset that the win was taken away and did not apologize to Sellers afterwards. Racing fans didn’t mind his aggressive driving, but they were mad about the cold shoulder he gave Sellers. They knew that Joey would now be a marked man.

MAKING HIS MARK

Joey was still only 18 when he arrived at Daytona in February as a full-fledged NASCAR driver. In Race One of the Gatorade Duel, he hung in with Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, barely missing the win. All four drivers were within a half-second of one another on the final lap. In the Daytona 500, Joey crashed on Lap 80. He was trying to avoid Lake Speed, who had lost control coming out of Turn 4. Unfortunately, Joey smashed right into the interior retaining wall, destroying his car and giving him a serious jolt. He walked away from the crash. He finished 43rd.


Joe Gibbs, 1992 Pro Set
     
 

Joey earned his spurs that winter and spring during a string of lackluster finishes. But he learned a little more about his crew and his competition with each race. At Darlington in May, he led the race for nearly a half hour and wound up finishing ninth. Meanwhile, Joey was catching on with fans. The precocious youngster was voted into the Sprint All-Star Race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway and scored another Top 10 finish

Joey’s big breakthrough came at the end of June in Loudon, New Hampshire. At the Lenox Tools 300, he was leading Stewart and Gordon when the race was called because of rain. It wasn’t the victory he had dreamed about, but it was a victory nonetheless—and at 19, Joey was officially the youngest driver ever to win at NASCAR’s top level.

That was Joey’s lone Sprint Cup victory in 2009. He was unable to crack the Top 12 and qualify for the Chase, but he did manage to stay in the Top 20. Joey notched two more Top 3 finishes and banked more than $5 million in earnings during his first full year.

Among the lowlights of the 2009 season were a pair of incidents with Greg Biffle in October. He and Joey traded paint in back-to-back Nationwide races. Biffle felt that Joey should have apologized after their first encounter. He made his point by banging into him in the second race, at the Auto Club Speedway in California.

Joey won that race—his fifth Nationwide victory of 2009—and as his dad ran to join him in Victory Lane, he gave Biffle the finger in front of thousands of fans. NASCAR pulled his card as punishment.

As the 2009 season ended, NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year award was all but a formality. Having started slow, finished strong, and experienced a year worth of bumps and bruises, Joey showed that a teenager can race with the old guys and more than hold his own.

That experience helped him as he opened the 2010 season. Joey finished 20th at the Daytona 500. He followed that up with a pair Top 10 finishes, in the Auto Club 500 and then at the Shelby American. Although he failed to win a Sprint Cup race during the season, he logged a total of 16 Top 10s, including seven Top 5s. Joey’s best performance came at Martinsville at the end of March. He stayed close to Gordon and teammate Denny Hamlin as they battled for the lead, slipping into second place behind Hamlin. Joey had a shot at winning the third-to-last race of the year, the Texas 500, leading for 30 laps before finishing fourth. He ended the year ranked #16 and did not compete in the Chase for the Cup.


Joey Logano, 2009 Press Pass
     
 

Joey regressed somewhat in 2011, finishing 24th and logging just six Top 10 finishes. He did win a pair of poles—at Sonoma and Pocono—and finished 33 of 36 races. Joey’s best performance came at the July race in Daytona. He snuck in ahead of teammate Kyle Busch and finished third behind David Ragan and Matt Kenseth. After the season, crew chief Greg Zipadelli left the Gibbs team to work for Stewart-Haas.

Jason Ratcliff replaced Zipadelli in 2012 and helped Joey earn his second Sprint Car victory. Joey won the pole at the Pocono 400 in June and went on to take the checkered flag ahead of Mark Martin. Joey passed Martin with four laps to go. The rest of the year had its ups and downs, and once again Joey found himself on the outside looking in when the cup portion of the season began. He began searching for another team after Gibbs racing announced that Kenseth would be driving the #20 car in 2013.

Joey moved over to Penkse Racing for 2013, where he took the wheel of the #22 Shell–Pennzoil car. In his fifth start, he was in excellent position to win the Auto Club 400 in Fontana when he and Hamlin made contact. Hamlin wrecked and Joey limped to a third-place finish. Still, he led the race for 41 laps, which helped him crack the Top 10 in the driver rankings for the first time since early 2012.

Despite experiencing some growing pains after his breakthrough 2009 season, there is no doubt that Joey is a special talent. Few NASCAR drivers have been this good at age 23. In fact, it’s hard to recall a young gun with a brighter future ahead of him.

JOEY THE DRIVER

Joey is mature for his age, but he can also be young and impetuous. He is learning as he goes—not just the tracks, but the hang-ups and habits of his fellow drivers too. Joey has had to earn their respect, and in most cases he has. For some, Joey still must prove that he can be trusted in close quarters. And when he makes mistakes he needs to apologize. It's all part of becoming one of the boys.

When racing folks call Joey a prodigy, often they are talking about the little things. For instance, it takes Joey just a handful of laps around a track to find the correct lines, and he is also good at feeding his team accurate information so they can adjust during a race. Joey controls his car like a veteran. He is quick when he needs to be, but also remarkably patient. Joey will need to be even more patient to win the 400- and 500-mile races.


Joey Logano, autographed photo
     

 

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