Each week the chorus of boos grows increasingly louder as Joey Logano goes through pre-race driver introductions — someone once viewed rather indifferently has now emerged as one of the most vilified.
Throughout NASCAR’s history that kind of resentment is commonplace whenever a driver wins with great frequency — something Logano’s done more than anyone else of late. Dating back to the start of last season his 11 victories are a Sprint Cup Series-best, eclipsing the eight Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick each have, respectively.
“It’s like the strange transition of wins,” Keselowski said. “One through 10 in your career are popular. Wins 10 through maybe the next 20 years are not popular. Until you get to your retirement year. Then you’re popular again.”
If anyone can relate to Logano’s current situation it’s Jeff Gordon, the now revered fan favorite who used to receive the same kind of response Logano now provokes. When Gordon burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, he was greeted favorably. Then he started perpetually winning, 56 victories over a seven-year span that included four championships, and the backlash commenced.
Eventually, though, as Gordon won less he reverted back to being a fan favorite. And now in his final season before retirement, he regularly elicits a rousing ovation when introduced to the crowd.
A self-described Gordon fan growing up, Logano never understood why Gordon was so disliked to the point fans twice threw beer cans onto the track when he won in 2004 and ’07 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Now experiencing the same transformation, Logano can relate to what Gordon went through. When Logano won a week ago at Talladega — his third victory in as many weeks — he was on the receiving end of having beer cans hurled at him.
“I thought (Gordon) was a good role model, a good guy, he just wins a lot,” Logano said. “He won quite a few races and a few championships, so I thought it was the ultimate compliment to see that happen.
“When I was getting beer cans thrown at me, I was like, ‘Man, this is actually really cool.’ It’s the ultimate compliment in motorsports, which is a weird way to look at it because you say, ‘Man, people are throwing things at me and it’s not very nice.'”
But the scorn Logano is feeling extends beyond winning — it’s how he’s reached Victory Lane each of the past three races. He won Charlotte by leading 68 percent of the laps. The next week he spun Matt Kenseth out of the lead with five laps remaining at Kansas, and last Sunday Logano scored a controversial victory (not of his doing) that prevented Dale Earnhardt Jr. from advancing to the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.
“Logano’s doing everything right,” Gordon said. “I don’t think there is one single thing he can sit there and say, ‘Yeah, I wish I hadn’t of done that,’ as far as Talladega is concerned. With what happened with him and Matt, that’s a consequence that he’ll have to weigh out and we’ll only see if that was a smart move, or not.”
Any potential repercussions stemming from the Kenseth incident may factor heavily whether Logano can capture a first series championship.
In part because he didn’t win Kansas, Kenseth failed to transfer out of Round 2 and has been quite adamant in blaming Logano for what occurred. Frustration further augmented when Logano nearly collided with Kenseth getting onto pit road at Talladega.
“Tell that 22 (Logano) I’m gonna knock him out after the race,” Kenseth radioed to his team. “Tell him to hide behind his daddy.”
Because Kenseth is no longer in title contention, it’s conceivable he could make Logano’s path to the championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway far more arduous.
“Joey Logano didn’t have to do anything to Matt Kenseth, except he knew Matt Kenseth was going to be a strong competitor for the championship and he eliminated him,” said Kyle Busch, a teammate of Kenseth’s. “Now he’s going to have to worry about it all the way to Homestead.”
If payback were to actualize, the likeliest place is Martinsville Speedway, the site of Sunday’s Round 3 opener. A half-mile short track resembling a paperclip and featuring long straightaways and tight corners that requires heavy braking, contact is a given virtually every lap.
Logano says he’s not concerned about retribution, preferring to concentration on maintaining his current high level of excellence. A win Sunday or in the next two weeks would automatically earn the 25-year-old a spot in the championship round for the second straight season.
“We’re focused in on winning the race,” Logano said. “That’s what we can control. We can’t control anybody else’s thinking or what’s in their mind. We have to think about how we advance and how we win this weekend in particular.”
And Logano is equally dismissive of those who may jeer him when they hear his name during pre-race introductions.
“I don’t care,” Logano said. “I don’t really care. I know there are a lot of 22 T-shirts out there and I really enjoy seeing that and I really appreciate the support that the 22 team gets. And if you don’t like me, I don’t care.”