In NASCAR, we always talk about promising, young drivers who were moved up to the Cup level too soon. Joey Logano is a perfect example when you want to discuss the harmful effects of moving a young gun to Cup before they’re ready. He was tearing up the circuit in the lower divisions and when Tony Stewart abruptly decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing and start his own team, an opportunity arose for Logano. JGR needed a replacement driver for their Home Depot Toyota and they felt that Logano would be the perfect fit. He was barely 18 years old though and didn’t even have a full season of Nationwide competition under his belt before he moved up.
Joey’s debut season in 2009 was a struggle and he only managed 20th in the standings with a car that had won the championship in both 2002 and 2005. It should be noted that he did set a record as the youngest winner in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history when he emerged victorious at New Hampshire when the race was shortened by rain. It was one of those wins that just fall into your lap and can’t really be looked at as a strong point of his season. It was a highlight for sure but considering that he ran outside the top 20 and a lap down all day, calling it a strong showing would be a stretch.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, rumors kept circulating that Home Depot was unhappy with Joey’s performance and wanted him gone. Despite winning his second race at Pocono in 2012 after an epic battle with Mark Martin, he was ousted by JGR and replaced by 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth. He then found a home at Penske Racing and in 2013, we finally got to see the Joey Logano we expected to see five years ago. He won another race at Michigan, made the chase and finished 8th in points. I should also mentioned that he out-performed teammate and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in what is easily his best season yet.
Many people out there now look at 20-year-old Kyle Larson and are concerned that the same thing is going to happen to him. If he was any other driver, I’d have to agree with those fearing a repeat of Logano’s struggles. The hype surrounding Kyle is certainly warranted and look no further than the stats if you need proof. Specifically, look at where the stats are coming from. He has had immediate succeed in nearly every single kind of car he’s ever raced.
Open wheels, stock cars, dirt, asphalt; it doesn’t make a difference with him. There are very few drivers out there as versatile as Kyle Larson and his natural ability to adapt to a car is going to help him have a solid rookie season and contend for Cup championships in the future. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Mark Donahue, Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are all racers born with the aptitude to race anything, anytime, anywhere. It’s a rare gift. All of them are champions in more than one form of motorsport and each is considered to have reached the level of racing immortality. Drivers like Larson don’t come around too often and he should be treated differently than most rookies.
Some may say that I’m only buying into the hype just like everyone who was calling Logano, “the best thing since sliced bread.” I should mention that I was one of the few people back then saying that Joey isn’t ready and that he will struggle to find his footing. Take that as you will, but mark my words; Kyle Larson is different than Joey Logano, who is a good driver in his own right. Kyle Larson is the next big thing.