It's not uncommon for the journalists and fans covering a major sport to declare one competitor the next big thing early in their career. LeBron James, for example, was being compared to Michael Jordan right out of high school. But receiving hype and living up to it are two different things, and for every athlete who goes on to greatness, there are others who fall by the wayside.
For Joey Logano, it seemed his career was destined for the latter. NASCAR fans have been hearing about Logano for more than a decade, even though he's barely been around for two himself. At eleven years old, Logano was spotted by NASCAR racer Mark Martin at a youth circuit in Charlottesville. Martin saw natural talent in Logano, and wasn't afraid to proclaim that the kid would end up in NASCAR someday. Yes, Logano was said to be the next great driver before he even had his driver's license.
In many ways, Martin's prediction came true. Logano did join NASCAR at 18 years of age, and immediately began competing in the Nationwide division. A short year later, Logano was in Sprint Cup races competing against top racers like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt and Martin himself.
Yet in other ways, Logano, now 22, didn't live up to the near impossible hype that was built around him. In three years in Spring Cup racing, Logano had won only one race - a 2009 competition in New Hampshire, which made him the youngest race winner in Sprint Cup history. In the eyes of many fans, that victory wasn't well-deserved - it came after the race was cancelled early due to a rain delay. Most felt Logano wouldn't have held on for the win had the race ended normally.
That's what made Logano's win at the Pocono 400 this past weekend so special. It wasn't technically the rider's first win, but it was his first victory "the right way," as Martin later described it. After nearly three years of disappointment, Logano finally had a legitimate win on his resume.
Fittingly, it was his mentor Martin that Logano had to pass in order to get the victory. Logano led for much of the race, but Martin shot past him on a late restart with eight laps to go. Just four laps to go, however, Martin went low and Logano was able to push past him by passing up high.
"I just kept telling myself, I can do this. I can do this," Logano told NASCAR.com. "And I knew I [could]. You've got to have that confidence in there that you can do it. I was focused in and made sure I did all the right things."
The win could have bigger implications for the rising star. The points Logano earned put him in 15th place overall, and third in the wild card standings for a playoff berth. Logano's contract with Joe Gibbs Racing runs out at the end of the season, and getting into the playoffs would likely go a long way toward convincing the team he's worth keeping around.
Logano's win also helped silence critics of the young driver. With Logano going so long without a win, many said he was pushed into the Sprint Cup series too quickly, and should go back to racing in Nationwide events.
"I hope this shuts them all up," Logano told The Los Angeles Times. "It means a lot for me and my whole team. It's also the first Cup win for my crew chief. It's just cool."