Should Joey Logano Be NASCAR's Newest Villain?

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Should Joey Logano Be NASCAR's Newest Villain?
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Many critics claim that Logano now dons the proverbial "black hat" in NASCAR.

We're five races into the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, and it is already looking to be a long one in terms of respect when it comes to Joey Logano. Already, it seems that he has a laundry list of drivers aching to have their way with him.

To begin, Logano and Denny Hamlin traded barbs on Twitter following the Daytona 500 after Hamlin took issue with the way Logano raced in the closing laps. Let's keep in mind that Clint Bowyer added his two cents into the mix, making it a two-on-one confrontation. 

All seemed civil until Bristol, where Hamlin punted Logano into the wall. Logano responded with some harsh words, both in person and on Twitter.

Then it was off to sunny California for the fifth race of the season.

What a day.

Logano and Hamlin raced hard all day, providing the crowd with some exciting racing. They never yielded an inch, and when the white flag flew, they were running in the top two positions. Side by side, neck and neck, it was truly a winner-take-all brawl. 

However, when the two hit the fourth turn, contact was made and both ended up wadding their cars up. Hamlin got the worst of it and ended up breaking his back. Logano lost any chance of a win but still ended up in the top 10. 

Yet, on pit road, another driver joined the Anti-Logano League: Tony Stewart! Upset with Logano's blocking, Stewart, obviously listening to "Eye of the Tiger" before the checkered flag, set out to dot Logano's eyes and cross his teeth. 

The crash and ensuing conflict has brought a lot of criticism from Logano's peers.

That makes it three on one, if you want to still take Bowyer into consideration. If so, then feel free to include Kasey Kahne, as he added his two cents in regards to Stewart's interview in regards to the conflict. There's four on one.

Logano has previously gotten into scraps with Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick as well, and I doubt they've exercised any forgiveness in recent years, so for posterity's sake, let's call that six on one.

Add to that a litany of other drivers, and you can say that there is no love lost for Logano in the NASCAR garage these days.

But why? Is it because he's too scrawny? Has a reedy voice? Younger than the majority of the other competitors in the Sprint Cup garage? What is with all of this disdain?

Whatever it is, it is unwarranted. 

You can't help but feel bad for Logano. He's got a ton of talent and the right backing, but he's yet to turn the Sprint Cup garage on its head. Progress has been slow for the 22-year-old, and the frustration is there.

One reason for that is that he has been criticized in the past for being too passive. He's been accused of being in over his head. He's been accused of being a little rich boy who is used to others doing his bidding for him.

Those remarks earn a collective "ouch" rating from the Burn Department. You'd have to be numb to not feel how hard such criticism can hit. Added to the dismal run he had in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs from 2009-2012, and it is safe to say that Logano is not a happy guy.

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But 2013 rolls around and it is a clean slate for the guy. He's with an organization that also happens to build Fords for the defending Cup Series champion, and the pressure is on. It is time to put up or shut up and give it all he's got. Who could hold it against him?

It's not that Logano is unaware of what he is doing. No, he's just upping his aggression level for one thing. Aggression brings results. On top of that, he's demanding respect this year. He tried to earn it, and it got him nowhere.

Although Logano is executing the high-speed equivalent of a wrestling heel turn, he isn't trying to become the villain. 

No, he's just trying to do what is right for him. He's putting his foot down and saying to anyone who plans to disrespect him to not screw with him. That is a reaction to be expected from any man or woman of any ilk. 

Results-wise, 2013 has been so far, so good. California was easily the brightest point. Why? Because Logano was angry. He was angry because of Bristol. He did not want to be trumped by Hamlin, and he was going to give it all he had. The result was one of the best races we've ever seen Logano run.

Look, I've got two years on Logano. I'm not too far ahead of him. So I can vouch for him when I say that, sometimes, there are some people out there who perform their best when they're angry. Logano is one of them.

The accident was just that: an accident. Two great drivers with two great cars got into a smash, and unfortunately, someone was hurt. It happens. It is nothing new.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
It looked like it was going to be a spectacular side-by-side finish, then it all went south.

Although Logano's initial response was callous, a single-digit salute to Hamlin if there was one, his reaction upon hearing Hamlin was hurt convinced me that he never intended for him to get hurt. But there was nothing he could have done differently. He did what he had to do, and an accident happened.

As for the Stewart conflict, I think most of Stewart's frustration has been more or less in regards to his slow start to 2013. He claimed he was upset with Logano's blocking, but he must be getting senile in his old age, because there are plenty of instances where Stewart has done just that—and not only in his rookie years.

Either way, Logano is going to be here for a long time. Although a one-on-one feud between drivers is nice, listening to drivers gang up on one driver (who has done nothing wrong) is actually pretty sad. Sadder still is that a lot of the opinions expressed were exercised on Twitter of all places.

Suit up, let matters rest and get back to racing, guys.

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