Commentary

Logano concentrating on racing

Updated: March 22, 2013, 11:30 AM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

FONTANA, Calif. -- Joey Logano is at Colton High School working with a SWAT team only four days after telling former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin during a heated postrace confrontation at Bristol Motor Speedway that he'll be coming for him.

Helmets.

Body armor.

Kind of writes itself, doesn't it?

"You can't make that up," Logano says with a laugh. "We're just one week too late on this whole thing."

The 22-year-old Sprint Cup Series driver actually was scheduled for Thursday's event with the Inland Valley Regional SWAT team -- part of sponsor Shell Pennzoil's Fuel for Success program that for five years has helped at-risk youths handle the pressure of daily life and stay in school -- long before Hamlin spun him out at Bristol. That triggered a postrace shoving match between crew members and a Twitter dispute between the drivers.

Some might argue that Logano could use help handling the daily pressure of the Cup series, where he competes for Penske Racing after four seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing. His career so far would be characterized as average at best.

After all, the driver who was dubbed "the real deal" by Mark Martin at the age of 15 has yet to finish better than 16th in points and was replaced at JGR by Matt Kenseth after last season.

But Logano is doing better than many give him credit for, and he doesn't need a SWAT team to handle what has turned into an ongoing conflict with a frustrated Hamlin.

Not that a little obstacle course training like Logano's getting couldn't help if he needs to seek out Hamlin on Sunday at nearby Auto Club Speedway.

He did tell Hamlin he was coming for him, as he is reminded time and time again.

"My No. 1 goal is to win races any way I can -- no matter what," Logano says. "You don't go out there aiming for somebody. But at the same time, you don't forget what happened. You don't forget three years down the road what happened. It's always there."

True. But Logano doesn't have to wreck Hamlin to prove anything -- at least to himself. His best line of attack might be to do what Logano's new Penske teammate Brad Keselowski did in 2009 after Hamlin made it his business to teach him a lesson.

When Hamlin spun Keselowski as retaliation for a wreck at Phoenix, Keselowski laughed it off and said, "You know, I don't really hold any grudges. I'm ready to move on. Hell, I've already moved on."

Then he left Hamlin behind, so to speak, by winning the 2012 championship. Hamlin missed winning the title in 2010 and hasn't come close since.

Logano should do the same.

"I don't feel I have to [do anything]," he says. "I know what's right for me and what's right for my team. My team deserves better than what happened last week. I feel like I need to stick up for myself and my team."

Sometimes that's done best by moving on.

Maybe Logano already has. He and Keselowski barely mentioned Sunday's intense shoving match during Monday's team meeting other than to crack a few jokes. Keselowski didn't offer any advice and Logano didn't ask for any.

He shouldn't have to. Logano didn't do anything wrong on Sunday anymore than he did something wrong in the Daytona 500, where this all began.

In case you forgot, Hamlin sent Keselowski a message on Twitter after the race, writing: "@keselowski sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."

Logano responded with: "@dennyhamlin I Remember when you were MY genius teammate. #LoveYouMeanIt."

Yeah, remember when they were teammates. Everyone thought they got along swimmingly. But like any family, you never really know what goes on behind closed doors.

We all thought Hamlin and Kyle Busch got along great until 2010 when Hamlin ripped Busch for the way he creates drama -- Busch threatening to kill Hamlin for wrecking him in the all-star race -- and lets his emotion get the best of him.

On Sunday, when discussing the relationship between Hamlin and Logano, Busch actually seemed to stand up for his ex-teammmate.

"I was friends with Denny too before we were teammates," Busch said.

Asked if that was on the record, Busch smiled and said yes.

"That's funny," Logano says with a laugh.

Can you elaborate?

"I'm not Denny Hamlin," Logano continues. "I don't know what goes through his mind. All I know is what goes through my mind. I can only control that. I try to handle things to the best of my abilities, which is not always the best way to handle things sometimes. But with experience, I feel I've gotten better with that."

Logano admits he and Hamlin weren't the best of friends at JGR.

"We weren't going out to dinner and hanging out and playing basketball and things like that," he says. "But we got along."

They don't now.

There's a part of me that believes what's happening stems from the different paths the drivers took to the top level of sport. Hamlin, 32, had to fight for everything. Everything seemingly came easy for Logano.

There's a bigger part of me that believes this has more to do with Hamlin being frustrated and disrespected on several fronts. He admitted he felt disrespected by NASCAR after being fined $25,000 following his comments about the Gen-6 car at Phoenix. He admittedly has been frustrated by his inability to contend for the title after blowing it in 2010.

And he's seen misfortune take away a chance for four top-5s to start this season, something Keselowski's done to lead the points.

"When you have cars like that, you want to make the most of it," Logano says. "That hasn't happened. Obviously, he's frustrated. I'd be frustrated by something like that."

Logano I'm very surprised that we're 12th. I also feel like we're better than where we are.

-- Joey Logano

Maybe Logano simply was the easiest target to disrespect back. Hamlin certainly did that by calling his ex-teammate out publicly on Twitter after Daytona instead of dealing with the issues in person.

Hamlin certainly showed disrespect after Logano said he was coming after him, sarcastically retorting, "I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor."

Logano easily could be frustrated by his start, too. He had a fuel pump issue at Daytona, then ran out of gas while running 11th at Phoenix. After finishing 12th at Las Vegas, he saw a potential top-5 ruined by Hamlin at Bristol.

But he's 12th in points despite the misfortune.

"I'm very surprised that we're 12th," Logano says. "I also feel like we're better than where we are."

That Logano is 12th is another reason he needs to focus on racing and not Hamlin.

Having said that, it was important for Logano to stand up for himself after Bristol. This no longer is a kid who needs his dad to fight his battles, as Tom Logano did in 2009 with Greg Biffle at California and in 2010 with Kevin Harvick at Pocono.

"Can you let that go?" Logano says. "C'mon, man. I love my dad to death. I'm to the point in my career where I can handle the situation like a grown man like I am."

And while he hasn't exploded onto the scene as some thought he might, Logano's two wins and 41 top-10s in 151 races isn't anything to scoff at.

Alan Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion, and 1973 champion Benny Parsons had the same number of wins after the same number of races in their careers.

That's not to suggest Logano is on the brink of winning a title, but standing up for himself is a step in the right direction.

That he stood up to a former teammate just makes it more interesting.

"What's important is my team," Logano says. "I have the team support, and it was awesome them having my back [at Bristol]."

In other words, he doesn't need a SWAT team like he did on Thursday.

"But it is kind of ironic," Logano says with a laugh.

Kind of funny, too.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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