- The Washington Times - Monday, February 16, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. |Joey Logano wasn’t trying to make history. The budding NASCAR star just wanted to get through his first Daytona 500 in one piece.

Instead, the 18-year-old ended up learning one more painful lesson in a week full of them.

Logano wrecked his No. 20 Toyota on lap 80 on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway after getting tangled up with Scott Speed and Clint Bowyer, sending Logano sliding into the inside wall — and last place in the 43-car field.

The rookie, nicknamed “Sliced Bread” because of his precocious talent, started ninth but spent most of the day running a little off the pace, simply trying to get some experience and earn his peers’ respect.

Logano refused to blame Speed for starting the accident but could not hide his disappointment.

“I don’t think I should say what I’m feeling inside. I’m not happy, that’s for sure,” Logano said. “We were just getting going. And we got a couple pit stops under our belt, started coming to the front a little bit and made a few more adjustments.”

He’ll have to make one more: learning how to bounce back from adversity.

“This place takes awhile to figure out,” Joe Gibbs Racing president J.D. Gibbs said. “He’ll be fine. The frustrating thing was, and we just talked about it, ‘Finish it, just finish it.’ That’s all he was trying to do, and a lot of stuff happens around here out of your control.”

The crash ended a roller-coaster week. Logano finished second in the ARCA race last Saturday, wrecked early in the exhibition Budweiser Shootout later that day, hit the wall during practice Wednesday, then came back to finish fourth in a 150-mile qualifying race the next day. But he had to step aside during practice Friday as teammate Kyle Busch got in and helped fine-tune his car.

“I think the big thing is we tried to get as many laps as we could here all week,” Joe Gibbs said. “Hopefully that all pays off in the long run.”

JGR has brought along young drivers before, and J.D. Gibbs is hardly worried about Logano’s ability to bounce back from a rough start.

“We went through it with Denny [Hamlin], we went through it kind of with Tony [Stewart],” J.D. Gibbs said. “It’s a lot for anybody. I don’t care if you’re 50 or 18, if you’re new to it. This place takes a while. He did a good job learning. It’s going to be a learning curve for him, period, and we just want to get the foundation built.”

Hendrick struggles again

NASCAR’s super team didn’t get off to a super start. Again.

None of Hendrick Motorsports’ drivers — Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin — were a factor at Daytona for the second straight year.

No Hendrick car placed in the top 10, with Gordon’s 13th place the best of the bunch. Martin faded from the outside pole to 16th, Earnhardt was 27th and three-time defending series champion Johnson was 31st.

It wasn’t exactly the performance expected out of NASCAR’s highest-profile team.

Gordon led 14 laps during the middle of the race before tire problems forced him to pit. He dropped all the way to 32nd before scrambling back into the top 15 but ran out of time.

Martin, a sentimental favorite after a couple of near-misses in the 500, never got going. He led one lap but floated between fifth and 13th for long stretches before dropping back, making him 0-for-25 in the opener.

Backups needed

The seven drivers sent to the rear of the field at the start of the race after deciding to go to backup cars for the 500 hardly seemed bothered by the demotion.

Winner Matt Kenseth and second-place finisher Kevin Harvick had little trouble picking their way through the field.

Kenseth abandoned the car he used in Thursday’s qualifying run in favor of one that handled better. It certainly seemed that way when he zipped to the front with a couple of laps to go.

Tony Stewart finished eighth in a backup car he was forced to go to after colliding with teammate Ryan Newman during practice Saturday.

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