News & Media

In contract year, time for Logano to meet expectations

January 12, 2012, Dave Rodman,

Paired with a new crew chief, time to meet expectations is now for No. 20 driver

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- When Greg Zipadelli decided to leave Joe Gibbs Racing for a managerial position at Stewart-Haas Racing, his driver, Joey Logano, didn't even have a chance to think about who his replacement would be.

Even Wednesday, on the eve of NASCAR's Preseason Thunder, Logano was grinning broadly over working with that man, Jason Ratcliff. The fact that this might be a critical year in terms of Logano staying with JGR was far from the surface, until questioners brought it front-and-center.

"Obviously this is a contract year and I see where you're coming from: You better pick it up. I get that. And I think we've made the changes to do that."


"You never know," Logano said as behind him, the sun set over Daytona's frontstretch. "You never know what's gonna happen. Last year could have been a make-it-or-break-it year for me.

"It doesn't make you drive any different if it's a make-it-or-break-it year. You try to win every race, anyway, whether it's a contract year or not. Obviously this is a contract year and I see where you're coming from: You better pick it up. I get that. And I think we've made the changes to do that."

Logano said he likes to "set a goal that's out there -- you go to win a championship and if you finish fifth that's better than 15th." But 2011, when Logano finished 24th, the worst of his three full-time seasons, was a wake-up call.

"We set big expectations [four years ago] and we figured we'd be further ahead of where we are right now," Logano said. "At the end of 2010 if we made the Chase we were gonna finish third or fourth in the points and we were like, 'we're good.' "

But 2011 didn't pan out and now, while not starting from the bottom, how much does Logano have to prove?

"I'd like to hope people think I can make the Chase," Logano said. "I feel like I can and that's all that matters to me and my team. As long as we have confidence in ourselves, that's all we need and I think Jason's got that."

To facilitate that goal, team owner Joe Gibbs quickly decided on Logano's second crew chief in the Sprint Cup Series.

"Ultimately it's Joe's decision -- he owns the place," Logano said with a laugh. "When I talked with him [during the season] I said, 'Here's what we're struggling with and what we need to get better with, and you make the decision.' Joe will think about a lot of things before he does it, which is smart. I probably need to do that more often, too."

Logano said that's what appeared to happen with Ratcliff's promotion.

"There wasn't a whole bunch of communication," Logano said. "Joe's mind was made up before he even talked to me about it. I was fine with that because I think he was the perfect guy for the job and I wouldn't have picked anybody else."

Ratcliff, who won the 2009 Nationwide championship with Kyle Busch, worked three Nationwide Series races with Logano late last season, including a fourth place at Phoenix.

"The three races we worked together I felt like the communication was there and I always wished we could work together more to see what we could get," Logano said. "I think we're gonna be fine. [Ratcliff] is strong, he knows where he's at and he knows what he's got to do. And he's been working his brains out."

And so it is that testing at Daytona -- a place that's been tagged by drivers as one that anyone, including a monkey or your grandmother could drive a Cup car around -- had Logano wearing another of what's typically been his trademark grins.

"I'm stoked," Logano said. "I'm so excited and I've been excited to come here and do a Daytona test. I know it's not the same as going to Phoenix or Vegas or all those races coming up, but it gives us a little bit of a start to start working with each other.

"I know Daytona is different and it's kind of an easy start. But we have some tests planned, at New Smyrna and Rockingham and that's something that's really gonna help us."

A recent Nationwide test at Rockingham Speedway showed Logano a lot.

"Jason's obviously tied into the Nationwide team, because he's been there forever," Logano said. "But Jason came with my Nationwide team, with my Cup engineer and we all went down there and worked together. That's something I haven't seen in a long time.

"I thought that was something very, very important because we can all learn from each other and the more heads we can put together, obviously the better. The communication between myself and Jason, myself and the Nationwide team and Jason and the Nationwide team is huge and I think there's a lot of gains we can have there.

"We're already working well together. We already talk to each other a lot, going over a lot of different things. I personally feel like we're more on an equal playing field. We both want it the same amount and we're both sitting in the same shoes, basically, and we're working together very well, I think."

It's somewhat of a contrast between the three full years that Logano and Zipadelli worked together. Logano won his first race in only his 20th career start and then threatened to make the Chase in his second season. But in the end three poles, 14 top-five finishes and 29 top-10s in 110 starts was less than expected.

A test and a Fest

Complementing the testing portion at Daytona is a special two-day Fan Fest event.

When Zipadelli went to Stewart-Haas at the end of last year, he said he believed undue pressure had been placed on Logano when he came to JGR to replace the then-two-time champion Tony Stewart. For his part Logano, even though he said he's spoken with Zipadelli several times since his former crew chief left, said he never formed the close relationship with his team boss that they really needed to excel.

"Some things just don't mesh right," Logano, 21, said. "You can't take anything away from [Zipadelli]. He's won two championships so you can't say he wasn't smart. Obviously he's a really smart guy. It just didn't work.

"I think of myself four years ago and I'm not the person I was four years ago. I've matured a lot, obviously. That's gonna happen with anybody, especially coming into the sport this young. The biggest thing I've learned or changed in my whole four years is how to deal with people, and situations."

Logano said five consecutive finishes of 23rd or worse at the start of 2011, despite having an average qualifying spot of about seventh, doomed their season. Logano said he never requested a crew chief change, but ending with no top-10 finishes in their last 14 races meant something had to be done.

"It's a good change for [Zipadelli] and it's a good change for me," Logano said. "It's a good change to have something new, hit a reset button [and] come at it again. We didn't end on a good note, so how were we gonna change that this year, what were we gonna do to make it better? It wasn't working for us as good as it needed to be, so it was kind of a no-brainer, to me.

"To make a change ... Not just for me, because you kind of hope -- I think we're a lot better -- but I think even throughout the whole team people think we're a lot better, too. With all that, we're gonna be strong."