Joey Logano has been around the NASCAR Monster Cup scene so long that it’s easy to overlook the fact he’s also one of the youngest drivers competing on the premier level.
Logano will race for the eighth season at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday in the Auto Club 400. He’ll try to better his third-place finish of last year, the second time he’s placed in the position since he started racing at the top level in 2009.
Not bad for a 26-year-old.
Normally, such results would create a spotlight on Logano. However, that’s not the case for the driver of the Team Penske No. 22 Ford that will carry Southern California Auto Club colors this week.
Despite his 17 career Monster Energy Cup Series wins, Logano is perhaps better known by race fans for rivalries with fellow drivers. That was enhanced earlier this month when Logano tangled with Kyle Busch after the Las Vegas race.
Logano claims Busch missed a big roundhouse punch and Busch suffered a cut under his right eye after being pulled away by pit crew members and NASCAR staff. Neither was punished by the sanctioning body.
Days after the incident, Logano called Busch. Before action at Phoenix last weekend, they further discussed the situation with NASCAR. They were in contention for the win days later and their finish was, in part, dictated by a Logano incident.
Busch had nearly a three-second lead before Logano suffered a blown tire, the result of a melted bead seven laps from the finish. While Busch pitted for tires, Ryan Newman stayed out and raced to his first win since 2013.
Logano’s tangle with Busch in Las Vegas was just the latest in his history of mixing it up with other drivers. Those confrontations include run-ins with Kevin Harvick and Newman in 2010; with Tony Stewart after the Fontana race in 2013 following an on-track incident with Denny Hamlin; and with Matt Kenseth in 2015 that resulted in a two-race suspension for Kenseth.
In each case, Logano’s aggressive behavior on the track has been part of the issue. As a result, he often hears jeers and boos during driver introductions. And let there be no doubt he hears the fans.
“I secretly love it, but keep it to yourself” Logano said with a wide smile in a media appearance for the Fontana track before the Las Vegas race. “I would rather be loved than hated, but I would rather them say something than nothing.”
Logano has also learned from past incidents. After his meeting with NASCAR and Busch, he said it “always helps to talk face-to-face.” That’s exactly what didn’t happen in the past, notably with Kenseth.
Logano started as an 18-year-old for Joe Gibbs Racing but was released four years later, basically for lack of success. He won twice in 144 starts and his best points finish was 17th in 2012.
Since joining Roger Penske’s team in 2013, Logano has registered 15 Cup wins, a figure bettered in the time span only by defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (20 wins) and Harvick (16). One of those wins was the 2015 Daytona 500.
In fact, Logano scored a major victory before the start of the season at Daytona. His contract with Team Penske, due to expire at the end of the 2018 season, was extended “through 2022 and beyond,” along with those of crew chief Todd Gordon and sponsor Shell Oil.
“This was one of those decisions that was a no-brainer,” Logano said at the time. “When you find yourself in an amazing opportunity with a lot of winners around you, that’s great. It’s an honor.”
It was a “no-brainer” for both sides. In his four years with Penske, he’s been in the top 10 in points each season, including a runner-up finish last season. That effort made him one of the favorites for 2017, a role with which he’s comfortable.
Logano likes racing at Fontana, even if he hasn’t scored a victory and some of his memories aren’t the best.
“I’m pumped to be racing at Auto Club, it’s one of my favorite race tracks, just like a lot of other drivers,” Logano said. “It’s a lot of fun. The track wears out tires a lot, which is a good thing. It’s wider and fast.
“Those three things make for a great race track and a race we can all enjoy.”
Logano finished third in the Fontana race last year, having to rebound after an incident with Martin Truex Jr. 100 miles from the finish. Logano took responsibility for the contact that ended Truex’s run to the front.
“It was completely my fault,” Logano said after the race. “I was gonna go on the outside of (Truex) and he was gonna go on the top as well, and I just ended up being right on him. We never touched each other, but just taking the air off these cars makes them uncontrollable.
“I didn’t mean to do that. I was gonna try to go to the top and I just got a little bit close to him and got him free, so I’m taking the hit on that one.”
It wasn’t Logano’s first major incident at Fontana. In 2013, he and former Gibbs teammate Hamlin were side-by-side in the backstretch and into the final turn on the last lap. They bounced off each other before Logano was sent into the outside wall and Hamlin head-first into the inside wall as Kyle Busch raced by for the win.
Hamlin suffered a compression fracture of his lower back and missed the next four races.
After the race, Tony Stewart charged Logano, upset over the final restart. They exchanged harsh words and hard shoves before crew members stepped in. Logano also threw a water bottle at Stewart.
Neither the bottle nor the water has cooled Logano’s desire to succeed.
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