Commentary

Logano's Cup debut a learning experience, and a typical one at that

Much is expected of Joey Logano in the future. Logano himself was expecting much in his Sprint Cup debut at New Hampshire. Probably too much, writes K. Lee Davis.

Updated: September 14, 2008, 9:18 PM ET
By K. Lee Davis | ESPN.com

LOUDON, N.H. -- Rest easy NASCAR Nation, you may return to your regularly scheduled Chase watch -- or to following your favorite non-Chase driver -- because the future made an appearance Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The future is not now.

Joey Logano didn't win in Loudon, which is a few hundred miles from his boyhood home in Middletown, Conn. Chaser Greg Biffle opened the playoffs with a victory.

But Biffle should be competing for wins. Little should have been expected of Logano in his much-anticipated Sprint Cup debut in the Sylvania 300.

Logano brought home a 32nd-place finish in the Hall of Fame Racing No. 96 after starting 40th. And yes, despite being three laps down, that is pretty decent. Even if Logano didn't think so.

"On about Lap 200 I wanted it to end because we weren't running that well, but we're going to take what we learned and go at it again," he said.

Farmed out to the Joe Gibbs Racing satellite operation that has struggled to find its footing all season -- and it was the right call to let Logano race for HOF since it gave him a guaranteed spot in the field once qualifying was rained out Friday -- Logano was likely driving his least-competitive car in comparison to the field in many years.

And at age 18, there aren't that many years to include.

With little time for practice before rain came Friday, Logano and crew chief Steve Boyer didn't have much to go on in their effort to sort out the car before the race. It showed.

"We just missed it," Logano said. "We got too close to the end [before sorting out the car]. We were closer there at the end, but it was too late."

A few growing pains showed, too.

Logano pulled a jack halfway down pit road on his first stop of the day. The jack finally came out from under the car, spinning, rolling and bouncing along before coming to a stop in the middle lane.

Indicative of how chaotic things were, Logano said he didn't know until after the end of the race what he had done to get a penalty sending him to the tail end of the longest line. It's called "Removing equipment from assigned pit area" in the NASCAR rulebook.

"Sliced Bread," the moniker Logano has been tagged with?

More like a slice of humble pie. And one his owner could see coming.

"I wish we could have done this [last week] at Richmond, we were good at Richmond," Gibbs said of the original plan to give Logano his debut in a JGR car until qualifying was canceled, also because of rain. "Really fast at Richmond, and we never were here. But he made the most out of it and handled things well."

Logano is expected to handle things well, particularly after the way he has lit up the Nationwide Series this season with a victory and nine top-10s in 12 races.

A fair comparison could be made to some current Sprint Cup stars.

[+] EnlargeJoey Logano
Todd Warshaw/Getty ImagesJoey Logano, front, stayed out of trouble -- and there was plenty of it -- at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.

Jimmie Johnson's first experience at the Cup level remains fresh.

"I definitely remember my first race at Lowe's Motor Speedway; we ran pretty good at the start of it," he said. "I kept up with the leaders. We had a pit stop and I came out around, I think it was Mark Martin, and Dale Jarrett, and it kind of hit me at that point.

"I'm like, 'Wow, this is the big show, I'm with the guys.' Such a cool moment, and I enjoyed it. Then I proceeded to spin out and almost take out my teammate [Jeff Gordon], who was going on to win the championship that year. So I was thankful I didn't wipe out the 24 in the process."

The actual stats? JJ crashed on Lap 192 of 334 at the fall race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2001 and finished 39th.

And hardworking NASCAR team reps are always happy to oblige with some more statistics.

Gordon at Atlanta back in 1992? Started 21st, finished 31st out of 41 cars after a crash on Lap 164 of 328.

How about Kyle Busch, 2008 superstar -- at least until an abysmal day Sunday at Loudon, where he fought to a 34th-place finish. He crashed on Lap 11 of 267 at Las Vegas in 2004 and finished 41st. Busch had just one top-25 finish in his first six races.

Sure, there have been better debuts in Cup, but if you're measuring the hype around Logano this season, Gordon, Johnson and Busch are an obvious place to start.

And even that knowledge didn't do much to please Logano.

"That does make me feel a little better, but I still didn't finish the way I wanted to," he said.

The good ones almost never do.

For Logano, it's back to the Nationwide Series for Saturday's race at Dover. He is scheduled to return to Cup racing at Kansas in two weeks, back in the No. 96.

The future probably won't be then, either.

But Logano gets the keys to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry at Daytona in February 2009, and if the future arrives then, no one -- least of all Logano -- will be surprised.

K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at kevin.davis@espn3.com.

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