LAS VEGAS — There was nowhere to go but up this season for Joey Logano, who had a roller-coaster rookie season as the youngest driver at NASCAR's top level.
He bounced off the walls at Daytona and barrel-rolled his car at Dover. He struggled with setups, didn't understand the language his teammates used to describe their cars and often dreaded going to the track.
That he finished the year with one victory, seven top-10s and a 20th-place finish in the final standings was nothing short of a small miracle.
"There were a lot of weekends last year where we were in nothing more than survival mode," crew chief Greg Zipadelli said.
So Logano's solid start to his second season has not been lost on anyone. That 43rd-place finish in his inaugural Daytona 500 was improved to a 20th-place this year. And he was 26th last season at California, but upgraded that last week to fifth.
It took Logano 17 races last season to notch his first top-five.
Much of it is credited to just how much Logano, now 19, learned over that rocky first year. But there's also a new confidence that comes with the teenager getting comfortable in NASCAR.
"I feel more excited to come to the race tracks," he said. "Last year, oh boy, California, we stunk there. I didn't know if I wanted to go there. Now, you look at these places and you're excited to go back to the race track because you think you're going to have a good race car. We're going to be good.
"That's the biggest thing. You're more pumped up about coming to the race track."
Logano came into Las Vegas Speedway ranked ninth in the Sprint Cup standings, higher than teammates Kyle Busch (13th) and Denny Hamlin (22nd).
"I think it's cool," Logano said. "I was excited, ninth in points. Last year I would have been happy with 20th in points at this point in the season. so ninth is cool. I was joking around because I wished they'd start the Chase now. But we still have a long ways to go."
First up is today's race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Logano will start sixth. Kurt Busch, a Las Vegas native, will start from the pole as 18 drivers beat the qualifying track record.
Despite pit problems, Harvick wins
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kevin Harvick overcame a pair of horrendous pit stops to win the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Harvick led 83 of the 200 laps Saturday, but had to rally after his crew cost him several spots on pit road. "You look like a bunch of idiots on pit road," he told his crew.
Danica Patrick finished 36th in her third and final NAS?CAR race before she takes a four-month hiatus to return to IndyCar racing.