Racing phenom looks to Loudon

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Three days before Loudon's New Hampshire Motor Speedway plays host to the second Chase for the Cup event with the Sylvania 300, Joey Logano spent his morning on the field at Gillette Stadium, taking field goal lessons from Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

"I think I'll stick to racing," Logano said laughing, after pulling most of his 15-yard attempts wide right.

It's a good day job if you can get it. Logano, who grew up in Middletown, Conn., won his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Loudon in June 2009, outlasting four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon and former No. 20 Home Depot driver Tony Stewart in the Lenox Tools 301 to become the youngest winner in series history, at 19 years, 1 month and 4 days old. Later that year, Logano earned Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors -- the youngest driver ever to claim that title, too.

Going into Sunday's race, Logano, 21st in the Cup standings, is on the outside looking in (only the top 10 drivers at regular-season's end, plus two wild-card entries, go on to compete for the championship) for the Chase, as is last year's Sylvania winner, Clint Bowyer, in 13th. Sitting atop the standings is Kevin Harvick, a 2006 winner at Loudon, who has four wins and 14 top-10s in 2011. Behind him in second is Tony Stewart, followed by Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and a struggling Dale Earnhardt Jr. Whoever wins on Sunday at the famed oval track, Logano said, will need a clear head and a healthy dose of discipline.

"New Hampshire is a very tricky, unique track," Logano said. "It probably takes more self-discipline as a driver than any other track we go to. It's flat. You get the transitions that you're always playing with there. Those can really upset the car when you hit them, or they can help your car if you hit them right. So you've got to be so precise -- about where you're letting off and where your car is on the racetrack, and where you are on the throttle, and you can't rush anything and have to just be easy with it, but at the same time you've got to try to make speed and you're racing other cars. So it's really tricky. You've got to have your car set up exactly the way you need it to be. If you're a little bit off, it's way off ... So you have to be smart and make the right adjustments throughout the day and make sure you stay in the race."

Greg Zipadelli, Logano's veteran crew chief, echoed his driver:

"Winning at Loudon takes a very disciplined driver," Zipadelli said. "It takes a car that turns good all day but still has good exit speed. A lot of your time is made rolling center and really being able to put the power down on the big, long straightaways. It's two really long straightaways, fairly tight corners, no banking. You've got to have a car that really, really rotates and a driver who is really smooth and disciplined all day. It's one of these places where it's really easy to overdrive, pick the throttle up too soon and make your car do everything it's not supposed to. And you can't fix it. A driver has to do the right things in order for us to fix it. It's one of those racetracks. You don't overdrive it and make up for a lot here."

The Chase kicked off last weekend with the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., where Stewart, fresh off a winless regular season, cruised to an unexpected victory, his first since last October. The two-time Sprint Cup champion is now in second place in the standings and is a favorite going into this weekend at Loudon, where last year he led for 100 laps before running out of gas and losing the lead with just two laps to go.

"You know, all the years that Tony drove for us we ran really well [at Loudon] most of the time," said Zipadelli, who crewed Stewart to two Sprint Cup Series titles in 2005 and 2007. "So I would expect him to show up and be pretty strong here on Sunday.

"But I'd say right now it's anybody's game," Zipadelli added. "It's all about whoever makes the least mistakes and builds a little bit of a cushion."

Tom Lakin is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com.