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Saturday, April 6, 2013
Is payback coming at Martinsville?

By David Newton
ESPN.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Denny Hamlin was on top of his No. 11 hauler at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday, only a few feet from the No. 22 hauler of Joey Logano.

He has made no effort to visit his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, with whom a last-lap wreck two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway turned him from driver to spectator for five or six weeks.

Logano has made no effort to visit with the injured Hamlin any more than he has with Tony Stewart, who is at odds with Logano for blocking on the final restart at ACS.

Underlying tension?

Unfinished business?

Old guard versus new guard?

Nobody's willing to pick up a phone or walk to the hauler next door to settle differences.

Denny Hamlin
Ailing Denny Hamlin will watch Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway from atop the No. 11 pit box.

This is why there is so much anticipation for Sunday's Sprint Cup race at this half-mile track in the foothills of Virginia where old scores often are settled and new feuds begin.

We saw it last year when Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were livid after Clint Bowyer wrecked them both on the first green-white-checkered finish.

We saw it in 1999 when Stewart and Kenny Irwin took turns spinning each other out, ending with Stewart out of his car on the track throwing gloves at Irwin's car as it passed.

We see it here all the time.

It's a microcosm of what many would like to see every weekend.

"People want to see real-life drama," said Brian Vickers, when asked what it was like to be on Stewart's bad side in 2011 at Sonoma. "They want the good, the bad and the ugly. … They want reality. They don't want reality television. They want real."

This is real. And what we learn here is something reigning champion Brad Keselowski has preached for several years: It's OK to make somebody mad. It's OK to get mad.

And it's good for the sport, in some ways better than having Dale Earnhardt Jr. leading the points.

"As long as it doesn't turn bloodthirsty, it's great for the sport," Keselowski said.

Most of what we've recently seen between Logano and Hamlin and Logano and Stewart is no different from what we've seen through the history of the sport.

You have a 22-year-old Logano trying to make a name for himself, at times willing to throw caution to the wind to achieve success. You have veterans such as Stewart and Hamlin defending the old guard, trying to teach the so-called kid lessons older drivers once taught them.

Almost every driver with enough talent to compete for a win or a title has rubbed somebody the wrong way early in his career.

And then paid for it -- often at a place such as Martinsville.

"Joey is trying to establish himself as an elite driver in this sport and trying to join that rank," Keselowski said. "Certainly, there's gonna be resistance to that, and he's gonna have to fight through that.

"It's a real test of character for him. … If he can get through that test, I think he can graduate into an elite level."

Meanwhile, Logano has a target on his back. The target is larger than normal here because this is a place where the old guard can teach the new guard a lesson and brush it off as short-track racing.

Mark Martin, who will drive the No. 11 this weekend as Hamlin recovers from a compression fracture in his lower back, did that to Hamlin here in 2006 with a few bumps.

"You have to learn from your experiences, and Denny didn't even realize that what happened here there had been something previous at Las Vegas that got under my skin," Martin said. "We had our incident here. He was mad.

"Then I explained to him, and I heard him give the same explanation about two years later to another young driver coming from a veteran."

That's the cycle of life in the Sprint Cup garage.

"I look back on it for me personally and think that the experiences I went through were really something to be proud of," Keselowski said. "Because you knew at that moment those people that are mad at you are mad at you because they're fighting for their livelihood just like you are, and you are now considered a serious threat to them and they know it."

Logano is becoming a threat to Stewart and Hamlin and others in a way he hadn't before. He has a car at Penske Racing that has been capable of running up front every week and will start fourth Sunday. He's ninth in points, a spot ahead of Hamlin and 13 ahead of Stewart.

When you run up front, that creates an entirely different set of emotions -- and apparently rules in a way those of us not behind the wheel can't totally understand.

"So in some ways, he should be proud of the fact that he's made a few people angry," Keselowski said of his teammate.

Martin agreed.

"I don't think he's been out there looking for trouble at all," he said of the driver he dubbed a future star as a 15-year-old. "He doesn't appear to be that kind of a guy, but he's racing hard and that's what's expected of him from the people that support him.

"He finds himself in a position where the spotlight seems to be shining on him. Ask Darrell Waltrip. I'm not sure that's a bad thing."

It is a good thing. It is creating the drama and emotion that helped bring this sport to the national limelight, even if it's not good for socializing in the garage.

"There's some strained relationships there, without a doubt," Jeff Burton said. "They'll find a way through it, but it's probably going to take a little time. I'm sure Denny, in the position he's in, is bitter about it. Joey has his feet dug in the sand, too. I do think over time it will get better."

In time, Logano likely will learn to listen and give more than he takes, just like those before him. There might be a day when he is the veteran telling another young driver what is and isn't acceptable.

"Some of it is piling on, in my opinion," Burton said of the attack on Logano. "At the same time, when he does get confronted with issues, I don't think he handles it very well. 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.' … That kind of attitude is not welcomed."

That makes Logano no different from many his age. The difference is most don't have to make a living with competitors armed in 3,350-pound weapons and with attitudes that wouldn't be acceptable in a structured office setting.

"I tell him to just keep digging and keep going and don't let it get to you." Keselowski said.

Maybe one day Logano and Hamlin -- maybe even Logano and Stewart -- will talk about this and laugh, as Keselowski and Hamlin have at their feud from three years ago.

But for now, this is Martinsville, where tensions are high, where those not involved in the feuds have to be aware of where those involved are at all times.

Hamlin might be sidelined, but Stewart isn't. If Logano races him like he did a week ago, as he insists he will under the same situation, he likely will get dumped.

"We will all be aware," said Johnson, who will start from the pole seeking his eighth Martinsville win. "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."

Yes, a lot to be anticipated.

Ironically and unfortunately, the person with the best seat in the house will be Hamlin from the top of the 11 pit box.