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All eyes will be on Joey Logano's No. 22 car in Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Joey Logano’s No. 22 car will start fourth in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race in Martinsville.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Joey Logano speaks to the media at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Jeff Gordon rounds the track in his No. 24 car during practice at Martinsville Speedway on Friday.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
MARTINSVILLE — With apologies to first-time race sponsor STP Gas Booster, today’s NASCAR’s Sprint Cup show at Martinsville Speedway should appropriately be dubbed the Sliced Bread 500.
Rest assured, most of the 50,000-plus fans filing through the gates — many lugging a large sack of sandwiches — will have their eyes peeled on a sudden lightning-rod driver long anointed as “Sliced Bread.”
The greatest thing since ... ?
That’s the nickname fellow New England-bred driver Randy LaJoie hung on Joey Logano, when the then-teenage phenom was consistently whipping butt on lower series ovals.
Well, “Sliced Bread” very well could wind up being the meat in the sandwich in today’s 500-lap race. After being involved in multiple on-track scrapes the past two races with Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart, Logano could be a marked man on the rough ‘n tumble short track.
“The game plan is not to be out in the middle of the drama, but at least they’re talking about you. That’s a good thing and we’ve had some really fast cars that can go out there and win these things,” Logano said.
Well, the 22-year-old driver will be easy to find this afternoon. His bright yellow No. 22 Roger Penske Racing Ford will start fourth in the 43-car field.
Hamlin won’t get a chance to retaliate today. He’s sitting out the race — and possibly as many as the next several — with a compression fracture in his lower back sustained after his car crashed head-on with an infield retaining wall after being spun by Logano in Fontana, Calif., two Sundays ago.
Stewart, however, will be onhand today. The three-time Cup champion was infuriated by Logano’s aggressive blocking move on him at California. After the race, Stewart darted from his car to Logano’s car and landed a hard chest shove on his adversary before Penske crew members intervened.
While the veteran Stewart is way too smart ever to call his shot publicly, the bottom line is where there’s “Smoke” it could be fire.
Pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson, who is the favorite to score his eighth victory on the paperclip-shaped track, said all should be on red-flag alert today.
“Honestly, it’s an element of our sport that we deal with often,” Johnson said. “I can’t recall all the beefs that are out there. There is obviously one or two that have been in the spotlight. One of those situations can’t take place because Denny is not in the car.
“Tony and Joey ... something could happen. I think we will all be aware just as somebody watching on television. If you are in the car and you see those two near one another just watch for a lap or two and see what is going on. And make evasive moves if you need to at that point.
“It’s just something you deal with. Inside the car we have the best seat in the house ... you can see when someone is impatient. You can see when someone isn’t willing to work with another guy and start understanding things early in the race where there might be an issue.”
Logano and Stewart each basically said Friday that what happened in California stayed in California. The two have yet to discuss the fracas and have no plans to do so.
Johnson, a five-time Cup champion, disagreed with that plan.
“There are other things besides just dumping someone that you can do,” Johnson said Friday. “Pick up the phone and call a guy. Go find them. You don’t have to do it in front of the cameras, go find a guy and tell him how you feel. I think at the end of the day that is the route that I have chosen. I think you can be far more effective by engaging with someone.
“A phone call is barely personal enough, texting is not personal enough. Tweeting is definitely not personal enough, but engage. If you are that mad at someone go do something about it. Instead of having a microphone and just saying you are mad. Go engage. I think there certainly has been engagement in the limelight in front of the cameras which the fans love.
“But there are other ways. Like right now I guess the two transporters are parked next to one another. It would be real easy to slide next door and be like ‘hey look we’ve got to bury the hatchet on this deal.’ Or drive to somebody’s house. We all live within 30 miles of one another. Or go sit at the bar and wait for him at the bar and punch him in the face. There are a lot of options.”
Johnson said he learned from veteran Jeff Burton on how to handle such on-track misbehavior.
“Jeff Burton handled things that way with me here in 2004, 2005,” Johnson said. “I had so much respect for him that he walked through my transporter, past my guys, didn’t lie to me and he said, ‘Man I just used you up. I did.’
“I was like, ‘Man I don’t know how to really react at this point, but I appreciate you coming in here and telling me this.’ It kind of explained to me or showed me how I would like to handle things and then I have kind of taken that route.”
Burton, one of stock car racing’s most introspective thinkers, said Logano also needs to learn how to listen.
“When Joey does get confronted with issues, I don’t think he handles it very well,” Burton said. “He doesn’t just step back and say, ‘You know what, OK, let me listen to what you’re saying ... I may disagree with you but let me listen.’ He tends to resist, as if ‘I’m right, I’m right, I’m right.’
“I know I had an issue with him a few years ago and I encouraged him to go look at the tape. I had already looked at it so I knew what it showed. I didn’t tell him that. The next week I asked him if he had looked at it and he said, ‘No, I don’t need to.’ That kind of attitude is not welcomed.”
That said, Burton has no problem with Logano — on or off the track.
“I think Joey is a good person,” he said. “I think he is a good race car driver. I think he is a young person that is growing up in front of everybody.”
Logano has serious credentials. He’s been winning driving championships since he was 7 in Quarter Midgets, Bandoleros, Legends. He remains the youngest driver ever (17) to win a Nationwide race, the youngest driver (19) ever to win a Cup race. However, that victory at New Hampshire in 2009 marks his first and only win in 116 starts in NASCAR’s elite series.
After three years with Joe Gibbs Racing, Logano moved to a new team last winter, landing a ride with Penske, which fielded the mount that Brad Keselowski rode to the Cup title in 2012.
Burton, among others, said he thinks Logano appears to be operating under extreme pressure to match the high expectations that were hung on him when he rolled into Cup full-time in 2009. The low-key Connecticut native often has been accused of not being tough enough or mean enough on the track.
“I do think that Joey has been in a position where people have been pushing him, have their foot on his back pushing him into being a tough guy,” Burton said. “Stand up for yourself. They even say it on TV; he needs to stand up for himself. I think that has put Joey in an uncomfortable position for him.
“I think he just needs to not worry about all that and just race and be himself. He’s had a lot of pressure put on him. He’s gone to a team where they didn’t have as much success as his teammates did at Gibbs. That puts a lot of pressure on you.
“Trust me, I know that. He’s growing up in front of all of us. Like I’ve said many times, I think the way I came up was easier because I was running for teams that weren’t supposed to win. I was told ‘finish 20th and try to win rookie of the year award and we’re all good.’ That’s a lot easier than this is a really good team with a championship crew chief and lets go win this race.
“We all make mistakes as we grow up. All in all, Joey is not a bad guy. He can be a little more receptive to listening rather than arguing. Joey is not a dirty driver. He’s not. Some of it is piling on and some of it he brings on himself. I’d race with him anywhere, any time. I’m not uncomfortable racing with him at all.”
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon concurred with Burton.
“Joey has had a lot of hype and he’s had a lot of success,” Gordon said. “But in the Cup Series, he has struggled. I think there is a lot of question behind that and I think it’s been pretty tough on him to have all that success and hype along the way, and come into the Cup Series and not be able to live up to it; whether it’s the team or him or whatever it is.”
Sliced Bread? Can he possibly cut it today and possibly find Victory Lane in the wake of all the recent turmoil?
Grab another sandwich and watch, folks. Sounds like a fulfilling show.
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