For the second straight week, a normally calm driver in the NASCAR garage lost his cool after the race. But this time, a hot temper didn’t stop at just finger-pointing.
Jeff Burton’s heated berating of Kyle Busch – after the No. 18’s contact caused a flat tire on the No. 31 late in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 – came as a surprise to most bystanders. Burton, known as the veteran statesman of the NASCAR fraternity, brought the Wrath of God to Busch after the race, yet was quick to say to reporters afterwards that Busch had every right to the spot he was going for; instead, Burton’s anger was more a result of a cut tire instead of Busch cutting him off. By this Friday, the apologies mounted, with the veteran assuring reporters this “rivalry” was simply a non-issue.
In comparison, Joey Logano’s Pocono post-race episode Sunday unfolded much differently, WWE-style drama that will almost certainly have more of a long-term impact. It all started when contact between the right front of Kevin Harvick’s No. 29 Shell Chevy and the left side of Logano’s No. 20 Home Depot Toyota sent Logano spinning with just two laps to go. Joe Gibbs Racing’s sophomore, who ended up 13th, then pulled perpendicular to the No. 29 after the race for a not-so-friendly chat. Furious with the second late-race tangle between the two this season, Logano stormed through the barricade of his father and fellow crewmen to go straight for the yellow and red mob enveloping Harvick’s car.
In the process, Logano yelled out several criticisms of the current point leader in much the same fashion as Burton’s tongue-lashing – just more R-rated. The main theme included a quote that went something along these lines: “You [expletive]’d everything up….”
Swearing was a new concept for fans of the mild-mannered Logano, but he had every reason to feel perturbed. Armed with a top-five car for most of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide 500 at Pocono – surprising considering his average finish of 25th at the Pennsylvania track in two career races – he was on the verge of his best result since Martinsville the end of March, the type that rights the ship of a team sitting on the fence of making the Chase. Indeed, Logano had held the fifth position handily until a hard-charging Harvick waged a two-wide battle with the 20-year-old for a couple of laps. With less than two to go, Logano thought he had Harvick cleared down the short chute, but Harvick dove to the inside entering turn 3, causing the two to make contact while battling for the same piece of real estate. Logano almost saved his Toyota before finally spinning and bringing out the caution just before leader and teammate Denny Hamlin took the white flag.
Who’s at fault? I say both of them. While Logano could have written his own fate by not coming down on Harvick’s nose in the apex of the turn, Harvick did not help his case for innocence in the matter by standing in the throttle, making contact with the No. 20, and starting the spin.
But just because it’s a racin’ deal means nothing when we’re figuring out who’s egging who on. A similar situation to this wreck occurred in the Nationwide Series race at Bristol in March, an incident that left Logano holding the short end of the stick. In that instance, the youngster did not hunt down and accost Harvick, but the veteran didn’t mince words when asked about the contact. Instead, he all but stated that spinning Logano is what’s supposed to happen when one driver is stunting another’s progress late in the race.
That demand for other drivers to move out of his way is nothing new; Harvick’s handling of issues has been a topic of discussion before in this column. The fiery veteran has never been a stranger to controversy, and has been criticized more than once by competitors for his antics on and off the track. In fact, Carl Edwards outright said Harvick was “not a good person” after he threw barbs at Edwards after the No. 99 wrecked Brad Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. Harvick takes no prisoners and now, with the points lead, a new contract in hand and very fast entries in all three of NASCAR’s top series, has to be in the racing equivalent of nirvana. That leaves him ready and willing to cut down all challengers with one sentence out of his mouth.
On Sunday, Logano took into his hands the task of bringing Harvick back to earth. The lanky, baby-faced youngster, fresh from his teenage years, marched in to Harvick’s territory and stated not only to him but to the NASCAR world that he would not be pushed around any longer. It was a big step in his road to growing up, finally throwing a punch back after a long history of getting stepped on by veteran drivers taking advantage of his tendency to take the high road after races.
But while NASCAR’s young star may have felt wronged by Harvick, he was off base, too, at several points during his first real scrape with big league controversy. First, he also made some childish statements about Harvick in a post-race (and post-talking to with his bosses Joe and JD Gibbs) interview, including:
“It’s obvious that his [Harvick’s] wife wears the firesuit in that family,” and “He’s stupid.”
At 20 years old, a volatile mix of anger, testosterone, and immaturity can send a young man on a beeline in the direction of wrongdoing. Logano asserted his position by getting in the faces of men decades his senior, even making contact with one in letting anger get the best of him. For while he had every right to pull next to Harvick and vent, his belligerence toward his father and crew members who were trying to calm him down was unnecessary. Logano not only yelled at his father to get out of his way, but came close to slugging him in an attempt at breaking the human barricade between him and the No. 29 car.
He also made similar contact with a NASCAR official after backing away from the No. 29 crew that could have gotten him in serious trouble if it had been even more severe. And while Logano showed he had the stones to dance with the big boys, his immaturity glared through in post-race quotes, as he resorted to taking jabs at Harvick’s wife Delana.
Still, NASCAR Nation may very well have met Joey Logano Sunday. The fire he displayed after the Pocono race has always been present, a notion one would be familiar with after a race of listening to his in-car audio and not lost on a car owner who’s always seen it.
“I think we probably missed the fire that’s inside of Joey,” explained Joe Gibbs to the media after the race. “I think he does have a real fire. Now, he controls himself. He’s somebody that rarely gets out of control. But I definitely think he’s got a real passion for what he does. It means a lot to him.”
That explains why the Public Relations Fairy did not don her wand in enough time to veil the high-road Logano as he approached Harvick. And while Harvick hid behind the Shell/Pennzoil crew, the young driver made a bold statement to both Harvick and the world that he would stand for no more.
So what happens now? As with any controversy, passion spilleth over could work to his and the Home Depot team’s detriment. But after getting pushed around his entire career, taking the public step of standing up to a bully – however immature the way he did it might be – could more than likely send a charge through a No. 20 crew that may launch them into the 2010 Sprint Cup Series Chase.
Either way, the ride will be fun to watch.
Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts podcasts on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.