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Upon Further Review: Joey Logano’s rise since 2013 nearly unmatched

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Joey Logano arrived to NASCAR amid enormous expectations.

And cake.

Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated Logano’s 18th birthday with a press conference and cake at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008. The occasion was about possibilities with thoughts of how the heralded youngster might reshape the sport as Jeff Gordon did.

Less than three weeks later, Logano won at Kentucky Speedway in his third Xfinity Series start. He won as a Cup rookie the following year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Such moments, though, were rare. Hurt by NASCAR’s decision to ban testing, Logano struggled in taking over Tony Stewart’s ride. Logano struggled with leading a team that included crew members old enough to be his father. Logano struggled with confidence that waned as results yo-yoed.

After four mediocre seasons, the struggles proved to be too much. Joe Gibbs Racing replaced Logano with Matt Kenseth.

Sunday, in his 300th career Cup start, Logano celebrated his 18th victory. After being applauded for the accomplishment, Logano sounded a measured tone.

“Eighteen out of 300 doesn’t sound very good, does it?’’ he said. “But the first 150 were pretty bad.’’

No argument there but if you look at the last 150 Cup races — dating to the Bristol spring race in March 2013 — Logano has one of the sport’s best records.

Only Jimmie Johnson (21 wins) has more victories during that time than Logano (16), who is tied with Kevin Harvick. No driver has more top-five finishes (71) and top 10s (103) than Logano. Not even Johnson, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski can top Logano.

The 2015 Daytona 500 winner is doing this at age 26. And he’s signed with Team Penske through at least 2022, creating the stability that can help a driver flourish. In this era of competitors retiring in their early 40s, Logano still figures to have 16 years or so in the series.

If he averages three wins a year during the next 16 seasons — he’s averaged 3.2 wins a season the previous five years — he’d be 10 shy of Dale Earnhardt’s total of 76 career wins.

If Logano averages 3.5 wins a year over the next 16 seasons, he’d be two shy of Earnhardt’s total.

Former champion Dale Jarrett says that Logano has the hard-charging mindset similar to Earnhardt in that “you have the position that he wants.’’

With Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart retiring, Carl Edwards stepping away and Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving after this season, there’s a greater chance for Logano to become one of the sport’s signature drivers the next decade and beyond.

To make that leap, Logano needs championships. That doesn’t mean he’ll become a fan favorite — it’s hard to imagine at this point the crowd at Martinsville showering him with as much love as they gave Kenseth the day Kenseth wrecked Logano in retaliation for their incident at Kansas in 2015 — but if he can collect multiple titles, Logano could become a lightning rod that will have fans, whether they like him or not, paying attention.

He’s one of three drivers to make it to the championship race twice in the last years. The others are Harvick and Busch.

But before one places Logano on the pedestal with some of the sport’s greats, challenges remain. As the sport goes through this transition, it creates opportunities for other drivers.

Some young drivers are getting off to faster starts than Logano. In Logano’s first 150 races, he had two wins, 16 top fives and 41 top 10s.

Kyle Larson has topped Logano’s totals in 120 races. Larson has two wins, 25 top fives and 48 top 10s. Chase Elliott, who has run 50 races, is winless but has 13 top fives and 23 top 10s.

When Johnson moved to Cup, he had one win in what is the Xfintiy Series. No one thought he’d tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships. Maybe Logano is the next Johnson. Or maybe the next Johnson is just starting in Cup. Or yet to race in Cup.

Either way, Logano is on a path that could see him in the top 10 in career wins when he climbs from the car a last time.

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart . . . yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three time champion who returned from NASCAR’s premier series last year still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplanes and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelieveable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)