Joey Logano received hate mail after winning at Talladega Superspeedway and knocking Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
For the 25-year-old Team Penske racer, the negative comments and beer can shower he received on Sunday constitute a badge of honor.
“It’s the ultimate compliment in motorsports,” Logano said. “Which is a weird way to look at it because you say, ‘Man, people are throwing things at me and it’s not very nice’…But I looked at it while we were driving and I was watching beer cans explode off my windshield and I thought, ‘This is so cool,’ because I remember when I saw Jeff Gordon win at Talladega and the same exact thing happened.
“I didn’t quite grasp it then and I didn’t understand why they were doing it. I was a Jeff Gordon fan. I’m like, ‘Why does everyone hate Jeff Gordon? What did he ever do to anyone?’ I thought he was a good role model, a good guy, he just wins a lot. I thought the same thing. I was like, ‘This is kind of cool.’ His career turned out pretty good, it seems like. He won quite a few races and a few championships, so I thought it was the ultimate compliment to see that happen.”
Yes, Joey Logano, has arrived.
After struggling to establish himself on NASCAR’s top tour for four seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano is having a career year in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford.
(Logano) knew Kenseth was going to be a strong competitor for the championship at Homestead, so he eliminated him. Now he’s going to have to worry about that all the way to Homestead
Kyle Busch on Logano/Kenseth feud
Certainly, his five wins, one pole, 16 top fives and 22 top-10 finishes in 2014 were impressive, but Logano has surpassed those totals with four races remaining on the schedule.
On Sunday, he posted a personal-best sixth win for a season and became the first driver to win all three races in a Chase for the Sprint Cup segment.
Teammate Brad Keselowski, who won the Cup title in his third season with Penske in 2011, isn’t surprised by Logano’s success. After observing the driver’s “raw potential and talent," Keselowski became an advocate for Logano’s hiring.
“I think he’s refined his game, which you would expect with age, experience, maturity and all those things,” Keselowski said. “But I think at the core of who he is he’s the same person that I thought he was all along and I think that’s a good thing. He’s a good person.
“Joey is more than ready to win a championship. He’s in prime position.”
Not every driver is singing Logano’s praises — especially the competition at his former employer, Joe Gibbs Racing.
In the second half of the summer, when the JGR Toyotas went on a roll winning nine of 11 races, it was Logano who won the other two races. But the clash came to a head at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago when Logano punted race leader Matt Kenseth with five laps remaining in the race.
On Sunday, Logano found himself under Kenseth’s skin again when he cut off the No. 20 Toyota during a last minute decision to pit.
“The 22 chopped right across me,” Kenseth said on his radio. “Tell that 22 I’m going to knock his ass out after the race. You tell him. Tell him to hide behind his daddy. He came from the third lane. I didn’t even think he was going to pit, turned right down in front of me and brake checked me.”
No, Logano could not hear Kenseth’s comments from inside the No. 20 Toyota, but he did feel the chrome horn from behind.
“You’re slowing down at such a quick rate that the closing rate is very quick when that happens,” Logano said of coming to pit road. “It’s always a dangerous part. Looking back at it, yeah, I pulled in front of him when I was doing that. I didn’t notice it and didn’t know I did it. I got a boot from behind and no harm, no foul.”
Kenseth vs. Logano not over
Logano’s former teammate Kyle Busch believes the contest with Kenseth is far from over.
“Joey Logano didn’t have to do anything to Matt Kenseth (at Kansas), except he knew Matt Kenseth was going to be a strong competitor for the championship at Homestead, so he eliminated him,” Busch said. “Now he’s going to have to worry about that all the way to Homestead.”
Martinsville Speedway, the site of this weekend’s race, provides the perfect playground for payback. But Busch wouldn’t predict when Kenseth would exact his revenge.
“I don’t know if it’s Martinsville, if it’s Texas, if it’s Phoenix, if it’s Homestead—I don’t know,” Busch said.
Down the stretch
Traditionally, Logano has not been strong at the final four tracks. His only win came at Texas Motor Speedway last spring.
In the Eliminator Round, which features Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, Logano’s career-average finish is 14.8. However, when he raced at those three tracks earlier this season, his average finish was fifth.
Another advantage Logano has entering the final four races is that he and Kevin Harvick are the only drivers among the elite eight remaining in the Chase who transferred to the Championship Round at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year in debut of the Chase's elimination format. Although Logano has an average finish of 20th at Homestead, he’s enjoyed an average result of 5.1 on intermediate tracks this season.
Logano isn't concerned
When it comes to the competition, Logano isn’t going to worry about Kenseth — or any other adversary in or out of the Chase. He’s keeping the blinders on through the season finale.
“The only thing I can really control is the speed in my race car and working with my race team,” Logano said. “As long as we do that, that’s all we can do and whatever happens happens. We’ll be able to move forward and stick together as a team. I know one thing, none of this will break our team apart. We’re that strong of a team that I feel like we can recover from about anything.
“I feel that confident in everything we’re doing right now, so the main thing is don’t let stuff like that be a distraction because that can tear apart a team. You have to stay focused in on the ultimate goal, which is hoisting the trophy in Homestead. That’s the ultimate goal and what we’re here to do.”