Upon Further Review: Joey Logano is NASCAR’s lightning rod but could be its next superstar

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He has angered Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart, frustrated Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch and pissed off Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch.

And that’s not the complete list of those who have been upset with Joey Logano at one point or another.

Add Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Cole Pearn and Tony Gibson to that list. Also, don’t forget Greg Biffle and Robby Gordon. And if you want to go further back, add Peyton Sellers’ name.

Logano’s career features a trail of heated exchanges, threats from competitors and a few wrecked cars. While not always blameless, that doesn’t make Logano the devil either. 

Sunday’s altercation with Kyle Busch after the NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway adds another element to Logano’s legacy but begs a question: Why is Logano such a lightning rod to his competitors?

Critics already have their answer.

It often is not as simple as one wants to make it, though.

Logano finds himself in such situations because he’s often running at the front late in races. He and Jimmie Johnson each have won the most races (14) since 2014. Logano also has a Daytona 500 win during that time. 

 It’s easy to say that Johnson hasn’t had as many incidents with competitors and look at his success. That is a fair point, but not everyone races the same way. Logano exudes a different style. An old-school style.

“He’s almost two generations late to his style of driving,’’ NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett said about Logano. “It’s almost like he should have come along in the late ’70s, ’80s or ’90s. You just don’t see that many people this day and time get out and race the way he does.’’

“He doesn’t mind taking it to the edge. He’s going to do everything he can do to try to get around you. They didn’t have to implement the new rules to make him drive hard. He’s been that one that does that. When you do that, and probably because of situations, he might get raced harder than other people get raced in those situations, but he’s not backing down.’’

Look at the high-profile incidents in which Logano has been involved. He was racing for the lead or near it in each.

Sunday’s duel with Kyle Busch was for fourth place when they raced down the backstretch on the last lap. Busch, bloodied in the scuffle on pit road, later said: “He’s going to get it.’’ Of course, that overlooks the contact Busch initiated on the backstretch that sent his former teammate offline and eventually into Busch’s car.

Logano and Hamlin made contact racing for the win on the last lap at Auto Club Speedway in 2013. That came a week after an incident at Bristol between the two former teammates.

Logano angered Martin Truex Jr. last year at Auto Club Speedway as they raced for fourth with 50 laps left. Said Truex afterward: “I’m going to race him differently from now on.’’

Kurt Busch was upset with Logano after last July’s Daytona race when contact from Logano caused him to spin on the last lap as he ran second.

And there was the duel with Matt Kenseth in 2015 as they raced for the lead at Kansas five laps from the scheduled end. After having been blocked earlier, Logano made contact from behind. Kenseth wrecked. A few weeks later, Kenseth exacted revenge by wrecking Logano at Martinsville.

 “He ran me hard,’’ Logano said of Kenseth after his Kansas win. “I ran him hard back. That’s just the type of driver I am, the type of racer I’m going to be.’’

Some will suggest that such incidents are the result of a careless driver. What it shows is a driver who doesn’t back down late in a race.

“I know I wouldn’t want to work on someone’s car that’s going to roll over,’’ Logano said after that 2015 Kansas race.

With that driving style, Logano has advanced to the championship race in two of the last three years. 

It also could help him become the sport’s next superstar.

Beyond Johnson’s seven championships, no active driver has more than one Cup title. The sport awaits its next great champion with multiple titles. There are other candidates, but none is as young as Logano, who is 26 and has shown the ability to compete for a championship at this point.

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“He could get four or five (titles),’’ said NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty about Logano. “If you go off that theory that he’s the guy challenging the establishment, he’s the guy who can take championships away from the establishment.’’

Consider those who have had run-ins with Logano. They’re part of the establishment.

Even though this is Logano’s ninth full season in Cup, he doesn’t turn 27 until May. Kenseth is 19 years older than Logano. Harvick is 16 years older. Hamlin is 10 years older. Kyle Busch is 5 years older.

It’s just like on the schoolyard, the youngest often has to fight hardest to be considered an equal, and no one likes to be upstaged by someone younger.

Logano faces that and other challenges while in the best situation in his career. When he moved up to Cup in 2009 at age 18, it was to replace Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing. That was Stewart’s team, not Logano’s.

When he went to Team Penske in 2013 — after no other Cup teams made much of a pitch for him — it was his team. Taking the knowledge of his Xfinity success and Cup struggles, a wiser Logano could be a leader even though he was 21 years old at the start of that season.

“I think that’s part of what Joey struggled with (at JGR) is you need to be able to put your identity on something and say that may work for him, but it’s not what works for me,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “I think he and I sat down and talked more about what do you need in a race car to be successful. We focused on that. Him (saying) This is what I want. This is what I need.’ We worked very hard at a lot of things in that respect.

The confidence is markedly different from his Gibbs days and comes from the support of teammate Brad Keselowski, owner Roger Penske, Gordon and the rest of the organization. It’s also backed by a commitment. Team Penske recently extended Logano’s contract to beyond 2023, matching the deal with sponsor Shell-Pennzoil.

“Joey has taken some undue criticism from my perspective based on some of the things that have happened,’’ Penske said last July after Logano’s incident with Kurt Busch at Daytona. “I can name three or four things that certainly weren’t his fault. Quite honestly, I think he’s one of the best drivers on the racetrack out there day in and day out.

“Lot of these drivers can knock somebody off the track and they say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and they move on. They don’t let Logano do that. As far as I’m concerned, I’m behind him 300 percent.’’

With such support, Logano will keep racing the way he has. It’s just as he said in Sept. 2012 after it was announced he would join Penske’s team in 2013.

“I think if you shoot for a top-10 finish, the best you’re ever going to do is get a top-10 finish,’’ Logano said. “You’re always wanting more. They call me greedy, but I think that’s the competitiveness in me, to always want to be better.’’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends Kyle Busch’s surly mood after the Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 left Kyle Busch in an irate mood, which is perfectly fine, according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A seemingly agitated Busch, cupping his face in his hands after sitting down, entered the media center at Charlotte Motor Speedway Center shortly after 12:30 a.m. Sunday. It was roughly 10 minutes after Austin Dillon scored the first victory of his career in NASCAR’s premier series by stretching his final tank of fuel for 70 laps.

Was Busch surprised that Dillon made the checkered flag? What did it mean for a driver to get his first win?

“I’m not surprised about anything,” Busch snapped. “Congratulations.”

He dropped the mic on the dais. There were no further questions.

Shortly afterward on Twitter, Earnhardt took up for his peer (whom he replaced at Hendrick Motorsports in 2008).

Busch, who hasn’t won since last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (a span of 28 races) gave more elaborate answers shortly after exiting his No. 18 Toyota, which finished 0.835 seconds behind Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

He apparently didn’t realize until late in the race that his pass of Martin Truex Jr. (who led a race-high 233 laps) with a lap remaining was for second instead of the victory.

“This M&M’s Camry was awesome tonight,” Busch said. “It was just super fast. I mean we had one of the fastest cars all night long and then (Truex) was probably the fastest. There at the end, somehow we ran him down. You know he got a straightaway out on us, but there that last 100 laps we were able to get back to him and pass him so you know that was promising for us there at the end in order to get a second-place finish, but man just so, so disappointed.

“I don’t know. We ran our own race. We did what we needed to do and it wasn’t – it wasn’t the right game. We come up short and finish second.

“It’s a frustrating night, man. There’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

Another Cup driver took a different view of Busch’s tirade.

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. took over the Cup points lead with a third-place finish in Saturday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, who led a race-high 233 laps, also extended his lead in the playoff standings by winning the second stage and bringing his total to 16 points.

Kyle Larson, who had led the standings for eight consecutive races since Phoenix International Raceway, fell to second in the rankings after crashing and finishing a season-worst 33rd. Larson trails Truex by five points in the race for the regular-season championship (and 15 playoff points).

Click here for the points standings after Charlotte.

Results, stats for the 58th annual Coca-Cola 600

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With a fuel gamble, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup win.

It comes in his 133rd start and is the second win for Richard Childress Racing this year.

Following him was Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the full results.

Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to victory lane for first time since Dale Earnhardt’s last win

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CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon scored his first Cup victory in his first start with a new crew chief, bringing an iconic number back to victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

Stretching his last tank of fuel 70 laps, the Richard Childress Racing driver won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I can’t believe it,” Dillon told Fox Sports. “I was just really focused on those last laps.”

It was the first victory on the circuit for the No. 3 Chevrolet since the late Dale Earnhardt’s win at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. Richard Childress Racing mothballed the number after Earnhardt’s death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 but brought it back with Dillon in 2014.

Dillon, the grandson of team owner Richard Childress, was making his debut with crew chief Justin Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe last week.

Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.

Jimmie Johnson was leading before running out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead to Dillon.

“I was just trying to be patient with (Johnson),” Dillon said. “I could see him saving (fuel). I thought I’d saved enough early where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out.

“I ran out at the line and it gurgled all around just to do one little spin and push it back to victory lane.”

With the victory, Dillon qualified for the playoffs, joining RCR teammate Ryan Newman (who clinched a berth by winning at Phoenix International Raceway).

Dillon becomes the 10th driver to score his first Cup win at Charlotte, joining David Pearson, Buddy Baker, Charlie Glotzbach, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears and David Reutimann.

Who had a good race: Kyle Busch charged to second in the closing laps, following up a win last week at the All-Star Race. … Truex dominated Charlotte for the third straight year, leading a race-high 233 laps. … Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top five, and rookie Daniel Suarez was 11th. … Rookie Erik Jones finished seventh, giving Furniture Row Racing two top 10s in a race for the first time.

Who had a bad race: It was over for Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski on Lap 20 when they were collected in a bizarre wreck as a result of a chain reaction from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s engine failure. …  Points leader Kyle Larson finished a season-worst 32nd after a crash. … Danica Patrick hit the wall twice (at least once because of a tire problem) and placed 25th.

Quote of the race: “My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here.” – Dillon after scoring his first Cup victory.

What’s next: 1 p.m., June 4 at Dover International Speedway on FS1.