CONCORD, N.C. – Joey Logano wasn’t as willing to admit it, but when Roger Penske is deeming it the truth, it’s hard to cast aside the conclusion.
What was the biggest takeaway from Logano’s victory Sunday in the Bank of America 500, the latest in a disconcerting procession of humdrum processionals at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
While hugely significant to his sleeping habits, it wasn’t Logano’s advancement to the third round of the NASCAR playoffs (the Team Penske driver has been running well enough anyway).
And though Charlotte marks the first of four 1.5-mile ovals in seven races to determine the title, thumping the field as thoroughly as Logano did also wasn’t ranked first on Sunday’s list of achievements.
It’s much simpler than that.
It’s whom he beat.
“When you can beat (Kevin Harvick) any day, any time, that’s a big deal for us,” said Penske, the owner of Logano’s No. 22 Ford. “I think that it was good that we could at least be on a level playing field with him today.”
It hasn’t been just Sunday, though.
Charlotte was just the latest reminder that Harvick should be more worried about Logano than anyone in his bid for NASCAR’s first repeat title in five years. And not just because Logano led 227 of 334 laps while Harvick paced none, interrupting a blistering streak in which his No. 4 Chevrolet had opened the Chase by leading 581 laps in three races.
Since the green flag fell for the first time this season at Daytona International Speedway – and resulted in a postrace screaming and shoving match between Logano and Harvick a few hours later – no one has been a more persistent thorn in the defending series champion’s side.
In three of Logano’s victories this season – the Daytona 500, the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway and Sunday at Charlotte – Harvick finished second. In Logano’s fourth win, he chased Harvick into running out of fuel while leading on the final lap at Watkins Glen International.
If there is a confidence boost or mental edge to be gained, Logano naturally isn’t letting onto it.
He’d be too smart for that, anyway.
“There’s 42 other cars we’ve got to beat, too,” Logano said. “He has been the one that has finished second (three times). I think it’s just a coincidence.
“Obviously they’re a great race team, but a team like that has a week like they did last week, you’ve got to be able to pick up your game and hopefully be able to beat them and show that we’re here.”
Logano has let Harvick know he’s there many times this season, and it hasn’t always been behind the wheel.
When the season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition race ended in February with Harvick ramming him on the cool-down lap, Logano angrily confronted his rival in the pits.
Two days after Harvick’s clutch win last Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Logano took a subtle and dismissive dig in noting the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s dominance was due partially because Harvick was “throwing Hail Marys, and it paid off.”
Translation: Harvick’s team completely showed its hand at Dover. My team hasn’t yet.
It’s the closest any driver will come to antagonizing or engaging Harvick, whose ongoing pursuit to master mind games is well documented. Look no further than Jimmie Johnson’s immediate attempt to extend an olive branch to Harvick (greeted by a glare and a shove) to assuage any ill will from their dustup in the Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speedway.
Harvick is fond of telling others he is planning to pound their cars into the ground (which drew a muted response from Joe Gibbs Racing).
The only replies to pound sand are coming from Logano.
Few have had more practice, of course, with being on the receiving end of Harvick’s manipulative verbal jabs like Logano. They intermittently have feuded for more than five years, and the barbs have been caustic enough to spur the sale of branded merchandise (after Logano said Harvick’s wife DeLana “tells him what to do and wears the firesuit in the family,” the couple turned the line into a popular T-shirt).
Last season, Harvick opened the championship news conference before the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway by tossing a 3-week-old allegations of blocking at Logano, who didn’t take the bait.
Sunday, it was Harvick who wasn’t biting after expressing frustration on his radio during the Bank of America 500 that Logano should have been black-flagged for accelerating early on the final restart.
“Whether he left early or not doesn’t matter at this point,” he said when asked about it afterward.
What mattered most Sunday to Harvick was that he didn’t win.
But whom he didn’t beat mattered, too.