7:05 p.m., Home Depot Store No. 6335. The teenage girl in the madras shorts and black and orange T-shirt fans her blushing face as she moves one step closer to the table. It's nearly her turn, so she removes her baseball cap and squeezes a Sharpie in the other. She gazes back at her mother with an "oh-my-God" smile, captured with the click of a disposable camera. Joey Logano and crew chief Greg Zipadelli sign autographs at a riser slathered in orange Home Depot signs, and this night the souvenir-seekers are noticeably younger than usual. It's more Jonas Brothers than Labonte brothers, and Home Depot officials like what they see.
Surrounded by lawn mowers, dump spreaders and drill bits, in the Home Depot where Tony Stewart and Zipadelli conducted their Daytona-area in-store appearances during part of their decade together, Logano, an 18-year-old wunderkind, signed, posed and chatted for the first time.
It was another phase in the construction of Joey Logano.
"You can't let yourself get overwhelmed," Logano said. "It's a lot of pressure. If anything, I think it makes me better as a race car driver, putting your head down and digging as hard as you can, whether it's on or off the racetrack. It's more pressure, but it makes you work harder."
These once were Stewart's people. Now they are Logano's, the boy king of home improvement. The youngest to win races in the USAR and Camping World East and West series, and in a top-three NASCAR national series (Nationwide last season), he's the next next-great thing, nicknamed "Sliced Bread."
He has earned a job with one of NASCAR's top teams in one of its best rides and with one of its most active sponsors. The tradeoff is trying to replace a two-time Sprint Cup champion, who left to form a team, and who was a successful and visible asset. Adapting to the major leagues of stock car racing and keeping this job of a lifetime is a difficult-enough full-time career, but Logano is also tasked with being the shining new face of a Fortune 500 corporation.
It appears to be going well. Kyle Bubb, 18, posed for pictures with Logano before smiling on his way toward the door. A Dale Jarrett fan until the former series champion retired last year, he has attached his loyalties to Logano because of their closeness in age. Logano is 14 days older.
"I can relate to him," Bubb said.
Bubb said he had never had any strong feelings about Stewart or Home Depot. That's changed.
"I used to go to Lowe's all the time," he said, referring to Home Depot's rival. "Not anymore. I'm done with them."
That's an exciting notion for Home Depot, not only as it attempts to penetrate a new market but replace the charismatic Stewart.
"(Logano is) going to appeal to a broad swath of our customer base 18-54," Home Depot chief marketing officer Frank Bifulco told USA Today. "We don't see any downside."
Will Logano feel the same?
"Everything can get overwhelming at times when you're a young guy because you wonder how you can do all this at one time," said Logano's JGR teammate, Denny Hamlin.
JGR vice president Steve DeSouza said the prospect of beginning what it hopes is another long-term relationship with a blank slate was appealing to JGR and Home Depot.
"(When) we sat down and started talking about the future, that's exactly what it was: This is an exciting time for everybody, there's a piece of clay sitting on the table, we get to see what works best," he said.
DeSouza said director of corporate communications Chris Helein "is with Logano constantly" to ease his transition into dealing with the sponsor and media.
Logano's father, Tom, said he was most worried about his son's extra professional duties but credits Joey with managing both well so far.
Logano missed the opportunity to exercise his gregariousness in class plays or the debate club because he has been home-schooled since fourth grade. But Tom Logano thinks that might have become an advantage.
"Racing has been where he socializes the most, and he's always been racing with people older than him, so I think it's helped him," he said. "He's had to communicate with a lot of adults at a young age."
And the teenagers, they seem to be coming easy.