Long: Joey Logano made the move he had to make

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Once was kindness. Twice wasn’t going to happen.

When Matt Kenseth blocked Joey Logano for the lead on the backstretch, Logano lifted.

When Kenseth later blocked on the frontstretch Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Logano didn’t lift. He tapped Kenseth and sent him spinning out of the lead. Instead of Kenseth going to victory lane, Logano was there for the second week in a row.

Standing on pit road by his car afterward, Kenseth said that Logano didn’t race for the lead “the way a man should.’’

Yet, that’s exactly what Logano did.

Hardened by battles with Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman that led to confrontations, Logano is no longer the kid whose father rushes into the fray or one that can be picked on. While Logano’s actions weren’t approved by Kenseth, does it matter?

This is racing. It’s not about making friends. Want to be liked? Get a Facebook account.

Had Logano backed away from Kenseth’s defensive moves Sunday, it would have emasculated Logano in front of his team and competitors. That would have shown a weakness in a driver who already is qualified for the third round of the Chase and is three races away from returning to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Harvick sought to expose a potential weakness last year when he needled Logano during the press conference before Homestead. Should they both advance, Harvick likely will try to do the same because Logano appears to be one of Harvick’s biggest threats for a title.

Logano understands the game and he knows what might have been revealed had he not responded to Kenseth’s challenge Sunday.

“All the great racers out there are students of the sport and they rewatch (races) and they see what strengths and weaknesses of their competitors are,’’ Logano said. “I do that. I realize who I’m racing.

“Everyone keeps a little notebook on the way people race, whether it’s restarts or during the race, and certain trends that they typically do when you’re around them. So you know, I think you always kind of take that into consideration a lot of times.’’

Had Logano cowered to Kenseth’s move, it would have undone those years of standing up for himself on and off the track and could have impacted his relationship with his team.

“I raced hard because my team works hard and they expect that out of me,’’ Logano said. “They expect their driver to go to battle in those situations. That’s my job. And if I lifted in that situation like I did down the backstretch, if I did that twice, I’m not sure my team would be too proud to work for someone like that, you know? I know I wouldn’t want to work on someone’s car that’s going to roll over.’’

That’s something his team doesn’t have to ponder after Logano held firm and refused to be intimidated by Kenseth’s move.