|NAME: Joey Logano||CAR OWNER: Joe Gibbs|
|SPONSOR: Home Depot/Dollar General||CREW CHIEF: Jason Radcliff|
|CAR #: 20||MANUFACTURER: Toyota|
Joey Logano has been called the best thing since sliced bread. But lately, he’s looked more like Melba toast. The 21-year-old once compared to NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch turned down a decidedly different path in 2011. All those drivers mentioned excelled in their third full season in the Sprint Cup Series, while Logano turned in his worst performance to date. That doesn’t bode well for the chances of him living up any time soon to the lofty moniker placed upon him by Mark Martin when he was a teenager. But a change has been made on his No. 20 team that will change things — for better or worse.
The only Cup crew chief Logano has known, Greg Zipadelli, was granted his release from Joe Gibbs Racing in December. He heads to Stewart-Haas Racing to serve as the Competition Director. In his place steps in longtime JGR Nationwide Series crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
Ratcliff is a proven commodity in the Nationwide ranks, where he’s racked up 39 wins since 2002 with the likes of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, David Green and Jamie McMurray. Despite being employed at JGR since ’05, Ratcliff and Logano have only been paired together for four NNS events, registering finishes of seventh, 13th, seventh and fourth.
While the loss of a two-time champion crew chief in Zipadelli hurts the organization as a whole, it may be addition by subtraction for Logano. His in-race relationship with Zippy had grown stale, as the crew chief who was so used to winning with Stewart — they notched 33 wins together from 1999-2008 — became more frustrated with a driver who had won but once (a fuel mileage victory in 2009) in three seasons.
Ratcliff will not necessarily bring new ideas on the level of a Kenny Francis/Hendrick Motorsports scale, but should serve as a breath of fresh air to a stagnated team. How will that affect the stat column in 2012? Hard to say. So much of what makes a driver/crew chief combo successful (or unsuccessful) lies in the intangibles. The team will undoubtedly say all the right things, but the proof will be evident in results.
There is pressure on Logano outside of the new personnel. Last summer, it appeared Carl Edwards was a shoe-in to replace him in a public courtship that took its toll on all involved despite never coming together. It showed that not only was JGR brass willing to make a big change, but that sponsor Home Depot was, as well. On the bright side, Dollar General has jumped on board to take some of the financial strain off Home Depot, but the Logano/Ratcliff combo is going to have to score big this year.
Is that possible? Logano’s track record doesn’t indicate it, but sometimes putting the right people together can heal all wounds. However, until the results show otherwise, this is a 20-something-ranked team.
What the Competition is Saying
The young driver ended the 2010 season on fire but was unable to carry the momentum through to 2011. Continuing to show signs of improvement, Logano also showed there was still more room for growth before he becomes the sensation he was predicted to be.
“Questions are mounting about whether this guy is really a driver or not,” says one insider. “How many years do you give him to develop?”
Additional questions surrounding the leadership of the team creep in as well. “How will Ratcliff fare in the Cup Series? He’s a helluva talent, but that’s a big jump, even for a successful Nationwide crew chief. Plus, the 20 team, in particular, doesn’t need the changeover to Toyota engines to slow them down any. That worries me some.”
Top 5s: 4
Top 10s: 6
Laps Led: 58
Laps Completed: 10,296
Lead Lap Finishes: 21
Bonus Points: 5
Races Led: 5
Average Start: 17.9
Average Finish: 19.1
After First 26 Races: 22nd
Final Points Standing: 24th
Driver Rating: 73.8 (24th)
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