For the moment at least, everybody hates Joey Logano. At least it seems that way.
With Martin Truex Jr. declaring he will “drive him different” following the Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, one wouldn’t be faulted for feeling as if the half the series’ field has a beef with Logano.
With the series returning to Martinsville Speedway this weekend — site of Kenseth’s crowd-approved intentional wrecking of Logano — Hamlin defended Logano’s driving style and expressed an understanding of the situation Logano is in.
“My perfect, 100 percent honest answer to that is Joey races really tough and really hard,” Hamlin told media Tuesday during a Goodyear tire test at Richmond International Raceway. He gave his answer with Logano present in the room. “At times, he’s difficult to pass, but a lot of times that pays off at the end. It pays off in track position, it pays off with little things.”
And wins, Logano won a series-high six races last year.
“I’ve tried it the other way and it didn’t work,” said Logano, who won just three races in his first five seasons at the Cup level. “I think keeping the end of the race in mind throughout the whole race has always been important to me and what I found to be successful throughout these races as I’ve gone through them now for seven years. I found what works for me.”
Logano claims he still can’t definitively say what “racing hard” means after more than seven full-time seasons in NASCAR.
“I still haven’t learned this whole driver code thing,” Logano said during a break in Goodyear tire test at Richmond. “I do what comes natural to me. I know what I need to do inside the race car. I know what works for my race team. We kind of show up as our little family and we show up to try race everyone.”
Logano, a 14-time winner in the Sprint Cup, only earned one win in his first three seasons. His slow rise came as the nickname “Sliced Bread” clung to the driver who was supposed to be the best thing since it.
Most of Logano’s confrontations came before he won 11 races from 2014-15.
Hamlin’s history with Logano, a former teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, began with an accident at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2013 when Hamlin spun Logano. Afterward, Logano confronted Hamlin in the pits.
“He said he was ‘coming for me,'” Hamlin said afterward. “I usually don’t see him, so it’s usually not a factor.”
It would be a factor a week later at Auto Club Speedway. In a last-lap duel for the win, both drivers crashed and Hamlin missed the next four races with a L1 compression fracture. That was the same weekend Stewart went after Logano on pit road after the race for blocking him on a late restart.
On Tuesday, Hamlin said it would be difficult for him to criticize the way anyone drives.
“I just think we all have our own styles of driving,” he said. “Everyone has a different style. You can’t expect someone to convert the way that they drive to appease other people, because it’s what made them successful. It’s hard for me to criticize the way anyone drives, even though it might not be the way that I do it. It’s what got them here and what made them successful.”
Hamlin also summed up Logano’s current standing among drivers as a byproduct of a sport that sees reputations established over incidents and hard racing.
“I think sometimes it seems there’s coincidences that it’s like,” Hamlin said. “I’ve probably had the same thing happen to me. Somebody will be pissed at me and the next week somebody else is pissed at me. It’s part of it.”
“Ultimately, as long as you feel good about the way that you handle things on the track and off the track when things do go bad, I got no problems with it whatsoever.”
The current state of opinion on Logano’s driving style didn’t start or end at Martinsville last year.
One could trace the origins of Logano’s reputation to the 2010 season. Logano’s second year in Cup, there were two accidents with Kevin Harvick, in the Xfinity Series at Dover and later in the Cup Series at Pocono Raceway. The second resulted in a post-race altercation.
Logano would remark that Harvick’s wife, DeLana, “wears the firesuit in the family, she tells him what to do.”
In a Twitter exchange following last week’s race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pointed to the Pocono incident as starting Logano’s transformation into the “gremlin.”
Six years later, Truex’s run-in with Logano followed Stewart and Hamlin’s at Fontana, Newman at Michigan in 2010 and Harvick again in the 2015 Sprint Unlimited. A week later, the “gremlin” won the Daytona 500.