NASCAR Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Joey Logano At A Crossroad

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Much has been made of Joey Logano’s actions at Auto Club Speedway this past Sunday. From his “take no prisoners” dive into Turn Three on the final lap, to going Ivan Drago with his “that’s what he gets” blast after Denny Hamlin went careening into the inside wall – and out of the Series for the next six weeks, Sliced Bread has sliced right into the center of NASCAR attention. Granted, Logano didn’t know the extent of Hamlin’s injuries. However, as of Wednesday afternoon he had yet to reach out to Hamlin to discuss the incident – or wish him well. That changed Wednesday afternoon, finally although Hamlin said that while Logano had reached out to him, and they had exchanged texts, things “didn’t go well. It was unproductive.”

We all know the knock on Joey thus far; he hasn’t lived up to the hype ever since Joe Gibbs Racing snatched him out from under Roush’s nose, being glossed “Sliced Bread” due to the hoopla surrounding him. He’s fought an uphill battle, having to replace a quasi-legend in Tony Stewart, taking over the reins of a driver and team what won two titles prior to his arrival. Home Depot even built an ad campaign around the transition in 2008, heightening the pressure that never did seem to pop while he was there.

Logano’s won two races – albeit a rain-delayed one at New Hampshire, in 2009, and last year at Pocono, moving former mentor Mark Martin out of the way during the final laps, but has ruffled his share of feathers along the way. Greg Biffle, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, and now Tony Stewart have all had their run-ins with the driver, with the last two weeks those conflicts extending to scuffles with crewmen. Sure, he has been an easy target: a young kid, not particularly physically imposing or intimidating (besides threatening to punch Kevin Harvick in the nose over the radio, or poking Ryan Newman), and now the latest barb is a “rich kid” smack. Tony Stewart referred to him as a rich kid who never had to work for anything, while Kurt Busch’s girlfriend hit him with #TrustFundRacer hash tag on Twitter.

Joey Logano’s dust up with Denny Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway was legitimately a racing accident, but also left Hamlin with a broken back. Might now be the time to temper any other brewing hostilities with other competitors?

So Logano is at a bit of a crossroads. He’s five races in with a new team, and Roger Penske’s operation has always been the definition of professionalism; these guys don’t even wear jeans the morning before the race. It’s slacks, dress shoes, and a sponsor shirt with a button-down collar. Over the course of the last couple of years, the Captain has had to deal with Kurt’s craziness, A.J.’s Adderall, and now Joey turning into a stone cold killa. So considering the circumstances, it might be time for Logano to drop the “tough guy” act and exercise some humility. He’s teetering on the brink of success in the No. 22 car, showing speed and consistency without the frustrations of living up to the history of the No. 20 car when he was 18 years old. Just because you were wronged at Bristol and were going for the win in California doesn’t mean things are going to be all right.

The last two weeks have seen him getting into fights on pit road, which sponsors aren’t going to like – particularly Shell, who for the last five years with Harvick, Allmendinger, and now Logano have seen themselves aligned with drivers cussing out their teams, other drivers, fighting people, or suspended for failed drug tests. In a way, he’s following in the footsteps of Brad Keselowski – who is about the furthest thing from a TrustFundRacer or rich kid that you could think of. But Keselowski knew how to balance it all, piling success on top of these situations and now is the time to mentor his teammate to do the same.

Logano also reminds me of another driver of a yellow car who got off to a bit of a rocky start himself: Ernie Irvan. Discovered by Dale Earnhardt, Irvan won early in his career once he got aligned with Morgan-McClure racing and the iconic No. 4 Kodak machine. In 1991, Irvan was involved in a number of incidents and run-ins with drivers, becoming a bit polarizing with fans and competitors alike. The kicker came during a midsummer wreck at Pocono, where contact wiped out half the field just several months after a Talladega incident knocked Kyle Petty out for an extended period of time with a leg injury. Finally, before the start of the August race at Talladega, Ernie chose to address the drivers during a pre-race meeting apologizing for his actions and asked for the respect back of his peers. Things weren’t perfect, after that, but over time he grew to be one of the better, more likable wheelmen inside the garage.

Will we be seeing the same from Logano sometime soon? Now, I’m not suggesting that Joey has to kow-tow to people he’s had run-ins with, but it might not hurt to dial down the rhetoric a tick, show some genuine concern for somebody who suffered a broken back that you go to work with 36 weeks a year, and not be so concerned with trying to be a hard ass at every opportunity in an effort to demand respect.

And as far as his beef with Tony is concerned? Just buy him a few hot dogs next weekend at Martinsville and he should be fine.

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