Amid news of a contract extension for Denny Hamlin and speculation swirling around Matt Kenseth's possible arrival at Joe Gibbs Racing next year, te owner Joe Gibbs said Saturday that his top priority was re-signing Joey Logano.
Logano, 22, who is in a contract year, has five Nationwide Series victories and one Sprint Cup win to his credit this year and has begun to blossom in his pairing with first-year Cup crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
"We're working real hard right now on extending him and his relationship with us," Gibbs said Friday after the drivers' meeting for Saturday night's Quaker State 400. "We've had a great relationship, signed him when he was 15. We've got a lot invested in Joey. I think right now he's stepping up, and we want him to be with us."
Asked whether sponsor Home Depot would continue to be part of the equation, Gibbs said, "I think part of what we've got going on with us right now -- there's a lot going on. So the things I talked about ... Joey, we want to get that done. Everything else is kind of up in the air for us right now."
It's fair to say that sponsor alignments are in a state of flux at JGR. Gibbs said that signing a new deal for Hamlin was a separate issue from extending the deal with Hamlin's sponsor, FedEx.
"It doesn't have anything to do with FedEx -- it's just Denny," Gibbs said, but that doesn't preclude the possibility of FedEx returning to Hamlin's car.
Gibbs was mum on the Kenseth rumors, but he left the door open for a future announcement.
"I don't think I should spend time talking about that right now," Gibbs said. "The timing's not there for us to talk about that. We've got a lot of decisions that need to be made, and we're working through that right now."
Kenseth, the Cup points leader, announced earlier this week that he would not return to Roush Fenway Racing and already had a new deal in place for 2013.
Hamlin is eighth in the series standings with two Cup wins this season. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota confirmed on his Twitter feed at 6:51 p.m. ET that the extension was a done deal.
"Happy to know where my future is," Hamlin wrote. "Excited for tonight and beyond with my team."
What traffic issue?
A combination of massive improvements in infrastructure and a lower car count eradicated the traffic problem that limited access to Kentucky Speedway last year.
"I'm very pleased with the all the changes we made," said track owner Bruton Smith, chairman and CEO of Speedway Motorsports Inc. "We spent millions and millions of dollars. Our state of Kentucky spent millions. What used to be a two-lane road out here, [Highway] 35, is basically operating now at seven lanes, so that's a huge advantage. ...
"We've done a lot of things here to accommodate the race fans and make it much nicer and fan-friendly."
Acknowledging that Saturday's crowd would be smaller than last year's, Smith conceded that attending a debut race held an attraction for certain fans.
"We could blame the heat wave," Smith said before Saturday night's Quaker State 400. "We could blame a lot of different things. When you are new and different, and it's the first, a lot of times fans respond -- they want to be at the inaugural. Last year, that was the inaugural.
"I can assure you that we will have a big crowd. It will be in excess of 100,000. That to me is a plus. It won't be sold out, in my opinion, but if we make a mistake and sell it out, so be it. We're prepared in every way here in case something like that should happen."
Bank on Petty
When it comes to helping military families, team owner and seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty is at the forefront.
Richard Petty Motorsports kicked off its three-race primary sponsorship with Eckrich on Friday with the unveiling of a piggy bank made from a Cup racing tire. Proceeds from the tire banks support Operation Homefront, which supports military families through its network of more than 4,500 volunteers. The banks also will be at Eckrich-sponsored races at Indianapolis and Michigan.
Eckrich also will donate five cents of the revenue of specially marked products, up to $200,000, through July 4.
Petty and Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 43 RPM Ford, kicked off the campaign by depositing 43 cents each into the tire bank unveiled behind Almirola's transporter.
"This is for the military families that get lost in the shuffle," said Petty, who will turn 75 on Monday. "This is for the families more than the enlisted people. We've always been a family race team that wants to give back to the people who sacrifice so much for us.
"Hopefully the fans will keep filling up this bank as a simple way to say thanks to all our military families."
- Denny Hamlin
- Joe Gibbs Racing
- Matt Kenseth
- Joe Gibbs