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Joey Logano is hoping for smoother rides

Young NASCAR driver is going through a bad stretch, but qualified third in the 43-car field for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana.

March 26, 2011|By Jim Peltz
  • Joey Logano, driver of the Home Depot No. 20 Toyota, stands in the garage area on Friday during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 400 in Fontana.
Joey Logano, driver of the Home Depot No. 20 Toyota, stands in the garage… (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images…)

NASCAR driver Joey Logano has suffered a run of bad luck early this season, so his Toyota teammate Kyle Busch decided Logano could use an unorthodox boost.

As the two signed autographs at Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance ahead of Sunday's Auto Club 400, Busch enlisted the employees' help.

"A couple ladies, I told them to rub [Logano's] head," Busch said. "We're trying to help him out."

Perhaps it worked, as Logano then qualified third in the 43-car field for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. Despite the bad luck, "they're still giving me really fast cars," Logano said of his Joe Gibbs Racing team.

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While 20-year-old Trevor Bayne thrilled NASCAR Nation with his upset Daytona 500 win last month, the sport's other notable 20-year-old — Logano — is struggling to fulfill the lofty expectations thrust on him since he reached the Cup circuit in 2009.

Logano was so touted that Gibbs picked him to succeed two-time champion Tony Stewart in one of NASCAR's best rides, the orange No. 20 Home Depot Toyota.

Logano responded with a victory in New Hampshire his first year, becoming the youngest Cup winner in history at age 19. The Connecticut native earned the nickname "Sliced Bread," as in "the best thing since."

But the tall, lanky Logano hasn't won in 59 races since New Hampshire. Last year he did have seven top-five finishes and finished 16th in the Cup standings.

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But in the first four races this year, Logano has finished 23rd three times and 33rd once, in Phoenix, when he lost an engine. His car had a broken wheel last Sunday in Bristol, Tenn.

So Logano is tied with Jeff Burton for 29th in the standings, and pressure already is mounting for Logano to start rallying if he wants to qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Cup title playoff over the final 10 races of the 36-race season.

"We run in the top 10 every week," Logano said. "We just got to figure out a way to make it all come together."

Logano acknowledged that, at times during his winless streak, there were moments "when I started thinking I'm not good enough or something like that." Does he still think that way? "Not any more, no."

"You just got to stay positive," he said. The bad luck has "to stop at some point. As a driver, it's hard to fix a motor blowing up or a wheel breaking or getting in a wreck that you couldn't do anything about."

Busch agreed.

"[Logano] can do it, it's not a matter of his driving talent," he said.

As for fulfilling those expectations, Logano said "I put more expectations on myself than anyone else can possibly put on me."

One of Logano's most notable races last year came at Pocono, where he got into a shouting match with veteran Kevin Harvick on national television after the two tangled in the closing laps.

"I feel like, to be in this sport, you have to be borderline cocky actually to do good," Logano said. "I have the confidence in myself that I know I can go out there and run with these guys."

Gilliland's goal

It has been mostly rough sledding for David Gilliland, 34, since he won the pole position for the Daytona 500 in 2007, his first full season in the Cup series.

But Gilliland, who grew up in Riverside and still has family in Chino and Torrance, made a last-lap charge to finish third in this year's Daytona 500 and said he's more confident than ever of earning his first Cup win.

"Our cars have been competitive," Gilliland, who drives the No. 34 Ford for the team Front Row Motorsports. But Gilliland has his work cut out Sunday after a poor qualifying run; he starts 37th.

james.peltz@latimes.com

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