CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Joey Logano was pushed into the Sprint Cup Series as a fresh-faced, budding superstar barely old enough to drive at NASCAR’s national level.
When Joe Gibbs Racing chose him to replace Tony Stewart in 2009, Logano moved quickly into one of NASCAR’s top rides with out-of-whack expectations built by glowing recommendations from veteran drivers.
It was quickly apparent that Logano would need years to properly fill Stewart’s seat at JGR, and the organization had to make a change after four seasons and just two victories. Roger Penske was fast to grab Logano, who has blossomed into the driver many thought he’d be when he turned 18 in 2008 and finally became eligible to race at NASCAR’s top level.
Logano’s win Sunday at Kansas Speedway was his career-best fifth of the season and earned him an automatic berth into the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. After the victory, Penske thanked Joe and J.D. Gibbs for giving Logano four years of seat time and breaking him in.
“Probably have to send (JGR) a check,” Penske joked.
Logano heads into Saturday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway at the top of the Chase rankings and confident he’s a legitimate title contender with his No. 22 Team Penske crew. It’s a spot Greg Zipadelli always believed Logano could reach.
Zipadelli was Stewart’s crew chief at JGR and spent three seasons atop the pit box with Logano before Zipadelli moved into a management role at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“We asked him to do something he probably wasn’t ready to do,” Zipadelli said. “He did the best he could at the time, and I think he got beat up over it.”
Logano left JGR with 41 top-10 finishes in 144 starts in the No. 20. He also won five poles, but never earned a spot in the Chase. In his first season with Penske last year, he had career-highs in top-fives, top-10s, laps led and made the Chase.
“I think the change was good for him. He went to a group that was excited about having him — not that Gibbs wasn’t, but they made different choices,” Zipadelli said. “We pushed him pretty early. There was never a day I didn’t think that kid had talent.”
MASON MITCHELL: Mason Mitchell started last winter unsure of his 2014 racing plans and took a gamble leaving his home in Iowa to move to North Carolina to start his own team.
The move paid huge dividends as his Mason Mitchell Motorsports team last weekend won the ARCA Racing Series championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” Mitchell said. “I know there were not too many believers earlier in the year, but we showed them what we were about. I learned so much about myself, living at the race shop and being dedicated. It’s just pretty incredible. It takes a lot just to get to the race track.”
Mitchell finished the season with one win, six second-place finishes and 12 top-five finishes. He also won five poles and his 18 top-10 finishes led all ARCA drivers.
Mitchell was solid on every type of track ARCA visited: In two dirt track races, he finished second and fourth. He was 10th on the road course in New Jersey. In nine short track races, he led 449 laps and had seven top-10 finishes.
“You’re not supposed to do this the first time,” Mitchell said. “I figured we’d be competitive by the end of the race season, but not all year. We never really had a bad day at the race track.”
INDYCAR-ENGINE DEVELOPMENT: IndyCar has named Marvin Riley the director of engine development. He will work in developing the rules and performance standards for IndyCar Series engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda.
Riley, who holds a mechanical engineering degree from Michigan and a business master’s from UCLA, has worked the last 10 years as a member of Honda Performance Development. He most recently served as assistant manager of HPD’s engine development department, where he was responsible for the execution of all major engine performance specifications and test plans.
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