Editor’s note: Eighteen drivers are guaranteed to start in the May 22 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, which will be televised live on SPEED, starting at 7 pm Eastern. Following is the eighth of 18 profiles of those drivers locked into the field.
When Joey Logano reflects back on his first Sprint All-Star Race experience, it’s not the pressure of trying to make the show that he remembers most.
Logano, then only a few days shy of his 19th birthday, just remembers having a good time.
“I think the All-Star race is the most fun race that I’ve ever been in, ever,” said Logano, who is now in his second full Sprint Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing. “I had so much fun last year.”
Logano’s fun kicked into high gear after being voted into the race via the Sprint Fan Vote that allows NASCAR enthusiasts to select one wild-card entry who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible.
Coming into the night, Logano could make prestigious exhibition event in one of two ways – by finishing first or second in the preliminary Sprint Showdown race or by getting voted into the main event by the fans.
He finished fifth in the Showdown, but the fan vote proved to be his savior.
And, boy, how the series newcomer was blown away when he learned just moments before the All-Star race that he was indeed the fans’ choice.
“For a rookie to come in and get the fan vote (with) a lot of big names in that race, (and) to get the fan vote right off the bat, that was very surprising,” Logano said.
“I gotta thank everyone out there. That was really big.”
Logano made the most of the opportunity, finishing eighth out of 21 cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway after starting last on the grid. Logano considers his first All-Star race appearance to have been a learning experience.
“I was kind of lost out there,” he said. “I was like ‘What do we do now? Are we coming in? When is the caution out? What's going on?’ That was the rookie part playing in. I had fun.
“The last 10 laps was really cool, not counting cautions, and everyone was going for the gusto out there. That was really cool.”
Now featuring four segments totaling 100 laps, capped by a 10-lap dash for gold and glory, the All-Star affair has long been an animal unto itself on the NASCAR calendar. While it doesn’t pay any points, the 26-year-old event does pay a whopping $1 million-plus to win.
There’s also an inordinate amount of buildup involved, as drivers are typically introduced with their crews before exuberant fans and hordes of flashing cameras in prerace ceremonies.
“Just the way they do driver intros and have all the fans there, it’s at night, under the lights, all that I think is just the coolest thing,” Logano said. “Then when the race starts, it’s out of control. There’s a lot of situations going out there to the way the cautions fall, the way you don’t only have to pit, but you have that 10-minute break (at the end of segment 3). All that kind of follows through, and I thought that was the coolest thing.
“Then at the end of the race you have a 10-lap shootout there and it was out of control. It was so much fun. I think it’s an exciting race for the fan as well as the drivers.”
None of the season’s 36 points races are divvied up into segments.
“I think it's cool how it's 50 and 20 and 20 and 10,” Logano said of the lap breakdowns. “That was different, but I enjoyed it.”
Logano will also enjoy not having to race his way into the event or be voted in at the last minute this year. His spot in the field was solidified with his first Cup victory last June at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Also different from 2009, Logano brings considerably more experience to the table having now visited each Cup track at least once. He’s also getting more used to the rigors of Cup racing and working with veteran pit boss Greg Zipadelli.
And it shows in the 2010 results of the 2009 Cup rookie of the year. Entering the Southern 500 at Darlington on May 8, Logano already had almost as many top-fives (two) as he did in all of last year (three).
"I am really happy with the way the season is going," Logano said. "Last year was tough on everyone and now we are starting to see our hard work and everyone's patience paying off."