My Brain on NASCAR: Logano living up to ‘Sliced Bread’ moniker

col-cathyelliott (2)In case you haven’t noticed, it’s time to start taking Joey Logano seriously. After claiming the lead with nine laps remaining in the 2015 Daytona 500 on Feb. 22, Logano managed to survive an end-of-race caution and then held on to win NASCAR’s most famous and prestigious event.

When asked what went through his mind when he saw that late caution flag come out, Logano said, “Once you get over the fact that you’re about to throw up, you start figuring out how to win the race.”

I’m trying to recall whether I have ever heard Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson or the late Dale Earnhardt mention the possibility of cookie-tossing in regard to winning a race … nope. I loved it, though. It was honest and refreshing, the difference between merely another day at the office and “Holy cow, I just went to work and won the Daytona 500!”

It was also age appropriate. Logano isn’t the youngest-ever Daytona 500 champion – that title currently belongs to Trevor Bayne – but he comes close. He may look like a kid who could come knocking at your door one of these nights to pick your daughter up for the prom, but in fact he is 24 years old and a married man with nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins to his credit. He was a strong contender for the series title last year, winning five races and ultimately landing at number four in the year-end standings.

Sometimes NASCAR feels like a real-life combination of the movies Mean Girls and Animal House. Seasoned veterans eye newcomers with a combination of mistrust and misgiving: Does this newbie know what to do on the track? Will he (or she) be a help or a hindrance during races? Hey, let’s grab a toga and apply a little pressure and see what happens!

Sometimes the answer comes quickly; think back to the days when Jeff Gordon and his infamous bad mustache – does that thing have its own Twitter handle yet? – began to regularly accomplish the unbelievable (and unforgettable) feat of regularly beating the late Dale Earnhardt to the checkered flag. The man who would go on to win four series titles (so far) and become one of the most popular and successful drivers in stock car racing history had to run the gauntlet of NASCAR’s fraternal hazing program before being issued his racing-man card.

Gordon wasn’t accorded any respect just for showing up. He had to earn it.

The same holds true for Logano. He fell victim to early pressure when Tony Stewart’s unexpected   departure from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2008 season put the still-teenaged Joey in the driver’s seat before he was fully prepared for fulltime Sprint Cup Series competition. Expectations and predictions ran the gamut from overnight sensation to rapid burnout. Things at JGR ultimately didn’t work out and in 2013 he made the move to Penske Racing, subsequently earning his first-ever spot in the championship Chase. He finished the season in eighth place.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that both NASCAR and Hollywood host their biggest events on the very same day. They weren’t the frontrunners going in, but two strong contenders carried the day as Joey Logano and “Birdman” soared to victory in their respective, and very hotly contested, races. It felt like a day when anything was possible.

We talk a lot about the changing face of NASCAR and what the sport’s future holds in store. If you’re the visual type and need to see what it looks like, sneak a peek at Joey Logano. He’s a scrapper.

He fell victim to some unfortunate hype early in his career, as he had been branded with the nickname “Sliced Bread” (as in “the greatest thing since …”). That’s not the most glamorous moniker, and he has pretty much managed to shed it as this point, but I like to look at it this way.

In order to properly slice a loaf of bread, you need sharp equipment, a keen eye and a steady hand. In NASCAR’s kitchen, if you use the right ingredients, the proper technique and make the cuts just right, at the end of the day you can end up in Victory Lane … and everyone else will just be toast.

Cathy Elliott is the former director of public relations for Darlington Raceway and author of the books Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR and Darlington Raceway: Too Tough To Tame. Contact her at cathyelliott@hotmail.com.

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