Mark Story

Mark Story: Logano 'batting a thousand' at Ky. Speedway

Joey Logano spoke at a news conference  at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. Wednesday June 1, 2011. Several NASCAR drivers tested Goodyear tire compounds in preparation for the speedway's July 9 Quaker State 400.  Photos by Brooke DiDonato | Staff
Joey Logano spoke at a news conference at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky. Wednesday June 1, 2011. Several NASCAR drivers tested Goodyear tire compounds in preparation for the speedway's July 9 Quaker State 400. Photos by Brooke DiDonato | Staff

SPARTA — Alex Trebek isn't here, but we can play some Jeopardy!

Let's try national sports figures for $1,000.

Answer: He loves Kentucky more than any other NASCAR driver.

Question: Who is Joey Logano?

You betcha.

Over the past three years, Joey Logano has made Kentucky Speedway into his personal playpen.

In 2008, Logano — then an 18-year-old making his third career start in NASCAR's Class AAA Nationwide Series — put his car on the pole in Sparta, then won the race.

2009: He did it again.

2010: Logano scored a win-the-pole/win-the-race three-peat in the Nationwide race at Kentucky Speedway.

When NASCAR at long last announced that the Sprint Cup Series would run in the commonwealth in 2011, the happiest person in the world was likely a guy from Middletown, Conn.

"That's a no-brainer," Logano said. "I actually ran a Legends car race here when I was 12, and I won that, too. I'm batting a thousand here."

Logano was among seven Sprint Cup drivers at Kentucky Speedway on Wednesday conducting a tire test for Goodyear in advance of the July 9 Quaker State 400.

As it turns out, the kid they call "Sliced Bread" — as in the greatest thing since — could use some of his Kentucky Speedway magic in 2011.

A year ago, Logano finished 16th in the Sprint Cup points standings. This season, in spite of a season-best third-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 last weekend in Charlotte, Logano and the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota he drives for Joe Gibbs Racing stand a disappointing 23rd.

"We've put ourselves in a big enough hole that we need to start doing something," Logano said.

The good news for the No. 20 and other laggards in the Cup standings this season is that NASCAR's revamped format for the season-ending Chase for the Sprint Cup keeps hope alive. Besides the top 10 in points, the other two drivers with the most race wins after the 26th race of the season will be eligible to make the Chase.

"Two wins, I think, definitely will get you in," Logano said.

In the two-plus years since Logano replaced Tony Stewart driving for Super Bowl-winning coach Joe Gibbs, he has one career Cup win (2009 at New Hampshire). Of the eight victories Logano has earned in part-time duty in the Nationwide Series, three have come in Gallatin County.

"Some race tracks just suit your driving style," said Greg Biffle, another of the drivers at Wednesday's tire test. "(Logano) runs very well here. It's one of those things, you've got good cars, you like the race track and, for whatever reason, it suits your style."

The bad news for the boy king of Kentucky Speedway is that the differences between a Cup Series car and the Nationwide Series machines Logano drove to victory circle here three years in a row are so large that there's no certainty that he will be at any advantage come July 9.

"I think I have an advantage coming here just because I have some laps around here, I know what the place is like," Logano said. "At the same time, you can't compare a Cup car and a Nationwide car. A lot of stuff is not going to transfer over, so you just never know."

Since becoming a full-time Cup regular in 2009, Logano has yet to have the breakthrough season that establishes him unquestionably as a star in NASCAR's major leagues. Many thought it would have already happened.

When Logano was only 15, NASCAR legend Mark Martin began touting him as potentially one of the sport's all-time greats. That helps explain why it seems Logano has been around for eons even though the driver just turned 21 on May 24.

How'd he celebrate?

"Not the way you probably think I did," Logano said, laughing. "I just had some friends over to my house. Grilled out. Played ping-pong. Jumped in the pool. Had a big basketball game, that we won. That was a big night for me. I don't know how to party. I've never 'partied' in my life."

If Logano can translate his mastery of Kentucky Speedway to the Cup Series come July 9th, he might learn how to party like a rock star in the state that must feel like his home away from home.

Says Logano: "Obviously, I am excited about getting back to Kentucky."

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