NASCAR Sprint Cup star Joey Logano won his second NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway in Southern California. But the real star of the show was 16 year old unknown Sergio Pena.
Pena and Logano kept Irwindale?s capacity crowd on its feet as they traded the lead back and forth for the entire 225 lap distance after the two started side-by-side on the front row.
Pena, who had to skip some high school classes in his home town of Winchester, VA to compete in the Showdown, is a product of Revolution Racing?s ?Drive for Diversity? program. Coming into what is billed as the ?Daytona 500? for late model short track racing, he had only one year of experience racing stock cars at both Shenandoah and Motor Mile Speedways in Virginia.
Pena earned the right to compete in the Showdown in a race-off with three teammates. He then proved he deserved to be there by qualifying on the pole, easily besting some of the most experienced and talented late model drivers from all over the country.
Once the race began it was obvious that Pena was for real. The only sign of his inexperience was after caution periods when Logano was able to pull away on the restarts. But even Logano noticed that as the race wore on, Pena was catching on, and Joey had to reach into his Sprint Cup bag of tricks to stay ahead of Pena.
Officially, the two young stars swapped the lead five times. But the official score card doesn?t count all the times the two drivers changed the lead at places other than the start/finish line. Again officially, Logano led a total 171 of the 225 laps and Pena led the other 54. But in reality the two ran side-by-side for so much of the race that it was hard to tell which one was leading.
It was clear through much of the event that Pena had the better car and it was only Joey Logano?s talent and experience that kept him in front as much as he was. Pena was being coached by car-builder and veteran racer Andy Santerre and after the race he had nothing but praise for the job Pena did.
For all his youth, the significance of what he had just done was not lost on Pena. Even before the race began he was humble and yet thrilled to be starting next to one of his racing idols.
?It?s just an honor to run with Logano,? Pena said. ?He has been a role model for me for so long. A young Cup driver, what kid doesn?t look up to that??
Following Logano and Pena across the finish line was two-time Showdown winner Matt Kobyluck, then Matt DiBenedetto and Andrew Myers. Eric Holmes, David Mayhew, Eddie MacDonald, Paulie Harraka and, another Sprint Cup veteran, Steve Park rounded out the top 10.
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