Joey Logano still has plenty of years to develop into NASCAR’s next big thing.

For now, the Cup rookie is still learning his way around the tricky tracks. The former phenom absorbed some hits early in his first year on the circuit, but the teenager has started to show some of the promise that made him one of the most hyped prospects in years.

He’s recorded two straight ninth-place finishes, and three in his last four races. All that early talk that he was a bust and those false rumors that he might be replaced at Joe Gibbs Racing have faded with each finish near the front of the pack.

The 19-year-old is starting to prove he can live up to some of the mile-high expectations that have followed him for years, long before he could to shave, vote, or even get a driver’s license.

Logano returns this week to Dover International Speedway, where he made his debut in a Nationwide Series race last May, kicking off a whirlwind start to his NASCAR career that included his first Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire in September.

“It feels like it’s been a lot longer than that,” Logano said. “When you think of everything that happens in a whole year, holy smokes.”

He’s recorded two wins in the second-tier Nationwide Series, and sits in 25th place this season in the Cup standings driving full-time for JGR. Logano toured Darlington Raceway with former Cup champion Cale Yarborough, garnered praise from former teammate Tony Stewart, and has already earned nearly $2 million in purse money this season.

The JGR driver with the squeaky-clean look was an instant hit with the fans, earning a spot in NASCAR’s All-Star race after they voted him in.

Like a typical teen, Logano gushed over the honor, calling it “huge” and “awesome.”

That’s how Logano was described long before he was racing against NASCAR’s big boys.

Veteran Mark Martin raved about Logano when he caught a glimpse of him years ago and stated “he can be one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR.”

Logano has been on the fast track ever since, winning races at every level and beating some of NASCAR’s top developmental drivers along the way. He earned the nickname “Sliced Bread,” as in, “the greatest thing since …”

Logano, who said only some close friends tease him with the “Sliced Bread” tag, said he’s blocked out the hype and has focused on winning races.

He also refused to use his age and lack of experience as reasons for a slow start that included a last-place finish at the opening Daytona 500.

“I’m not going to use it as an excuse that I’m only 18, 19 and that’s why things didn’t go good that day,” he said. “It never phased me that hey, you’re 18 and you’re doing all this. It never happened.”

Logano was eligible to drive once he turned 18 and JGR put him in a car at Dover only days after his birthday. His goal was a top-five, but he finished sixth in his national-level debut. In the postrace interview, Logano said the finish wasn’t “much in my book.” Time has softened his stance on his performance on the Monster Mile concrete track.

“I remember going there, not really knowing what to expect and having a good solid run,” he said. “For your first race, that was a really, really good finish.”

He’s navigated the tracks without the benefit of testing, thanks to rules changes implemented this season. That was one reason why he finished 30th or higher in five of his first seven races in the No. 20.

“I don’t think you ever get the hang of it,” he said. “I think I’m a lot closer to where I need to be. The cars are nothing like the Nationwide cars. It makes it quite a bit tougher, but it is what it is.”

The lack of seat time at some of the upcoming tracks have prompted him to add some dates to his schedule. He’ll take a spin at the ARCA race next week at Pocono Raceway, one track where he has yet to turn a competitive lap.

His slow start led Logano to gripe in April that his critics weren’t being fair. Logano said he barely had a chance to prove himself in the Cup series when he was hearing or reading stories that he wasn’t worth all the hype.

“Of course they weren’t,” being fair, he said. “No one realized it was going to be that much different than the Nationwide car. Look at who you’re racing against, too. It’s the best drivers in the world. It’s not going to be ‘bam!’ and you’re there.”

The JGR team never pressured him, only wanting Logano to learn each time he hit the track. Now that he’s recording top-10s, his next goal is a win or two and to build some momentum for next season – and the rest of what promises to be a lengthy career.

“I’m to the point now where I feel comfortable on the race track,” he said. “All that stuff builds up your confidence.”

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