Joey Logano is not a rookie in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, although it appears many of his fellow drivers still see him that way.
That was the spot-on analysis of former series champion Rusty Wallace on the morning before Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at California Speedway.
Logano is starting his fifth full season in NASCAR’s premier series, but at 22 years old — and a young-looking 22 at that — he doesn’t get the same respect as some of the older drivers.
He did nothing to help his cause on Sunday as three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was complaining about Logano blocking on the final restart, and rival Denny Hamlin ended up in the hospital after a give-no-quarter final lap.
That’s not to place the blame entirely on Logano for either one of those situations. Yes, it’s true he was blocking Stewart near the end of the race, but it’s the same tactic used by nearly any driver in that situation. Look at the Las Vegas race two weeks earlier, Matt Kenseth was able to hold off the faster car of Kasey Kahne by taking away some of the preferred lines near the end of the race.
In the classic example of the pot calling the kettle black, Tony Stewart also seemed to forget the massive pileup he caused at Talladega trying to block Michael Waltrip’s faster car at the end of last season’s Good Sam 500.
The situation with Hamlin, which came on the heels of those two feuding at Bristol, was an example of neither driver willing to give an inch.
That being said, Logano deserves more of the blame. Hamlin gave him room on the final lap, but it appeared Logano overdrove his No. 22 Ford and got into the side of Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota.
The post-race squabble, however, had nothing to do with Hamlin, whose scary head-on collision with the inside wall resulted in a lower back injury, but instead Stewart who took great exception to his younger rival pinching him down nearly to the grass.
Fines and penalties aside, Stewart’s post-race comments about Logano being a spoiled little rich kid showed a lack of respect that led to car owner Roger Penske defending his young driver.
Although he’s not been noted as a controversial driver, Logano has racked up quite the feud list in his five years at the Cup level. Besides Hamlin and Stewart, he’s had high-profile run-ins with Kevin Harvick, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman.
Is there a little jealously, maybe some of the drivers feel that Logano got such a big break at a young age? It’s definitely a possibility as Logano has always been in top-notch equipment, winning two races after taking over the ride Stewart left vacant at Joe Gibbs Racing.
While Logano hasn’t lived up to the potential on the Cup side that would warrant the nickname, “Sliced Bread,” he has proven himself in the lower-tier Nationwide Series with 18 wins, including a series-best nine last season.
The best thing for Logano to do at this point is keep his nose clean and simply race.
He is currently ninth in the Cup Series points and his No. 22 Ford has been fast every week. He has the opportunity to learn from one of the best, with champion Brad Keselowski as his teammate. If he can keep racing hard without going over the line, then Logano will gain that respect of the veterans and be a true contender to make this year’s Chase.
Adam Long of Pounding Mill, Va., led flag-to-flag in the 60-lap Late Model Stock feature last Friday night at Kingsport Speedway, and thus took over the track’s points lead after three races.
Hayden Woods, a 17-year-old Providence Academy student, won the pole with his time of 15.061 seconds barely missing Paul Nogradi Jr.’s track record of 15.060 set back on March 9.
With the top four qualifiers inverted at the start, Long moved to the point ahead of Nogradi. Johnson City’s Zeke Shell passed Nogradi on the opening lap, but was left chasing Long the rest of the way.
Behind Long and Shell, Lee Tissot of Asheville, Kres Van Dyke of Claypool Hill, Va., and Woods rounded out the top five.
After dominating the Legends division last season, Tyler Goodwin continued to show improvement in the Late Model ranks with a ninth-place finish. Joey Trent of Gray finished 14th out of the 20-driver field.
John Harrell of Surgoinsville racked his second Street Stock win this season, while Keith Helton of Kingsport used a last-lap, bump-and-run to beat John Ketron for the Pure 4 win. Brandon Byington of Kingsport held off his brother Billy to win in Rookie Pure 4.
Roger Tunnell, a former top driver at Sportsman Speedway, died last Wednesday. He was 74.
Tunnell had some classic battles with fellow Johnson City racers Walter Ball, Eddie France and Tom Eorgan in the 1960’s. It was highlighted by the 1968 season when Tunnell and Ball swapped the points lead several times over the course of the season.
As noted as he for piloting a race car, Tunnell was better known as the operator of Edgehill Gulf in Johnson City. He was often the go-to guy in the Tri-Cities for tow service when the big industrial trucks would break down.
Bristol Dragway is scheduled to host the 13th season of Street Fights starting on Thursday.
There are 14 Street Fights events which gives anyone the opportunity to race on the track in their own vehicle. Newly introduced is the the Rookie Pass is designed to educate new drivers, who may have just received their license, about the dangers of illegal street racing while giving them the much safer alternative of Street Fights
The Rookie Pass allows any driver, age 16 or 17, to race for free at any Street Fight event during the season. And on Saturday, March 30, Bristol Dragway officials will host a seminar, which gives drivers a better idea of how Street Fights works and how track officials work to make the environment fun, but also safe, for everyone.
Newcomers are encouraged to ask Dragway officials questions while also receiving free practice runs before the event starts.