Joey Logano says ‘time will tell’ if he becomes an enemy of Denny Hamlin
The longtime rivals are racing for a title and were involved in a fight at Martinsville
Joey Logano had no shortage of follow-up questions concerning his post-race Martinsville altercation with Denny Hamlin on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway.
That’s because Hamlin conducted his own weekend media availability an hour prior to Logano’s arrival and left several pointed criticisms of the entire No. 22 team.
Hamlin took responsibility for what happened on the track, when the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drifted up into Logano’s No. 22 Ford in the closing stages of the First Data 500. The resulting squeeze cut one of the tires on the No. 22 and eliminated Logano from contention in the race.
Even though Logano was able to race back inside the top 10, the two drivers marched toward each other after the race to chat about the incident on pit road.
The conversation was cordial, if somewhat stern, until Logano placed a forceful shove on Hamlin before attempting to walk away. Hamlin raced after his rival but was held back by Penske crew chief Todd Gordon.
Dave Nichols Jr., the tire specialist on the No. 22 team, tackled Hamlin from behind, triggering a pile-in from both sides. NASCAR suspended Nichols one week for his actions.
Hamlin said Gordon’s No. 22 over-the-wall crew was “out of control” after the race, something Logano took exception to during his own press conference.
“I am sure he will turn it in that way,” Logano said. “Here are the facts: I think Todd has great control of our race team and is a great crew chief and does a great job leading all of us. I said it after the race to TV that I probably shouldn’t have gone down there looking for an apology for something he probably wasn’t going to apologize for, and I let my emotions get the best of me.
“That was a mistake on my part. I probably didn’t handle that correctly. It doesn’t make what he did on the race track right, but I think at the same time he will probably play that card as much as he wants, he can run his mouth as much as he wants. I am going to run my race and we will see who ends up ahead.”
Both drivers remain very much in contention to win the Cup Series championship this month. Hamlin is second in the championship standings and 24 points above the elimination cutline. Logano is fourth and 14 points up.
Logano is also the defending series champion.
Logano was surprised that Hamlin claimed responsibility so many times since the confrontation because he didn’t offer it on pit road. Hamlin said earlier in the afternoon that he was willing to hear Logano out cordially until the shove that instigated the dogpile.
“As a man you can’t just let that stuff happen,” Hamlin said.
Logano said immediately after the fracas that he shouldn’t have shoved Hamlin. That’s the one element he wishes he could take back. He called it “unprofessional” just minutes afterward.
“For me, as a man, the first thing I do is own up to my mistakes,” Logano said on Friday. “I probably would have walked down to him if I did the same thing and said I was sorry and that I screwed up. That is what sent me off the edge. Like I said, I am regretful of the way I handled it. I let someone affect my character and that is something I am not proud of.”
Logano suspects Hamlin might be trying to play head games, with Hamlin saying on Friday that Logano “is not smart enough” to get inside his head.
“He can try,” Logano said in response. “I am a little tougher than he thinks.”
So how does Logano plan to race with Hamlin moving forward, especially if both remain in championship contention?
“The way I want to,” Logano said.
When asked if Hamlin is underestimating the defending champion, Logano suspected there might be some mind games being played between them to divert focus off winning races and the championship.
Logano says he’s not going to be goaded.
“He might — I am sure he does inside his mind,” Logano said. “Anytime something like this happens, the games are being played. He is handling it a different way than I would have but we aren’t the same person and that is okay. Whatever you are into.
“However you want to handle things. Like I said, I am not proud of the way I handled it, but I am going to be man enough to fess up to that and own that. Outside of that, I move on and whatever he wants to say, I couldn’t really give a crap.”