Can’t block this: Joey Logano is the talk of the garage in Martinsville

04/05/2013 11:20 PM

04/06/2013 1:01 PM

Outside of his age, Joey Logano is known for hardly anything in NASCAR.

He’s the youngest driver to win a Nationwide Series race, when he did it at 18, and the youngest to win a Sprint Cup race, which he did at 19.

But until two weeks ago, he was really just another guy in Sprint Cup.

Then he became that guy.

The guy whose beef with another driver ended up with that other driver in the hospital.

The guy who was blocking out of a restart.

The guy who had to give one-on-one interviews to ESPN to defend himself.

It’s been some two weeks for a guy with two victories to show for six years in Sprint Cup.

“The game plan is not to be out in the middle of the drama, but at least they’re talking about you,” the 22-year-old from Middletown, Conn., said Friday at Martinsville Speedway, where he gets his first chance to do his talking in the car after the race at Fontana, Calif., that caused all the trouble. “That’s a good thing, and we’ve had some really fast cars that can go out there and win these things.”

Logano, at least, gets to climb into his car, the No. 22 Ford, for the STP Gas Booster 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

Denny Hamlin does not.

Hamlin went to the hospital with a spine fracture after he hit the inside wall two weeks ago, the result of contact with Logano on a last-lap dash to the finish line, and he’s going to miss the next five races.

Hamlin has said he does not blame Logano for the injury, but he does blame him for the accident, the result of aggressive side-by-side racing between competitors who had been arguing on Twitter since the season opener in Daytona.

“Joey’s not a dirty driver,” Chevy driver Jeff Burton said. “Some of it’s piling on. Some of it he brings on himself.”

Tony Stewart thinks Logano brings it on himself.

Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, didn’t like the way Logano held his line out of a restart in Fontana, driving Stewart to the grass. After the race, Stewart complained about the blocking, saying it’s no way to race.

Some drivers agreed, notably Ryan Newman (an employee of Stewart), who called it a “chicken way to drive.”

Others said it’s part of racing.

“Blocking is part of what we do, and sometimes it works in your favor, and other times it doesn’t,” five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “Sometimes a driver will understand it, and other times they don’t.”

The discussion — or argument — all springs from Logano’s actions two weeks ago.

Defending champion Brad Keselowski said Logano should take it as a compliment.

“He should be proud of the fact that he’s made a few people angry,” Keselowski said. “He’s running some good races. He’s got a great team. He’s got a chance to stand out. I don’t know if that’s necessarily been the case before this year.”

So Logano has been the talk of the garage for two weeks, and there’s been nothing to change the conversation for all that time because there was no race last week.

Logano said he has to go with the flow.

“It’s good for your sponsor and good for your team, I guess, to have a higher awareness, but we want to do it for being in Victory Lane and not for being almost close to being in Victory Lane,” he said. “The last three weeks, we’ve been fast enough to be in Victory Lane, so I feel like it’s right around the corner for us.”

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