- Marty Smith, NASCAR
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MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Joey Logano, in an exclusive interview with ESPN on Tuesday, said he is remorseful for the fact that Denny Hamlin was injured in a last-lap wreck between the two at Auto Club Speedway. He was not remorseful for how he raced.
Logano admittedly got "walked on" when he entered the sport and stressed that Sprint Cup drivers must prove to other competitors that they won't be intimidated.
"You have to stand up for yourself," Logano said. "We're racing against the same people every weekend, and you have to show them that you're out here to win the race. You're out there to stand strong, and you're doing that for your whole team.
"I'm representing my whole team when I get into that race car, and I'm not going to get pushed around. I'm not OK with getting pushed around. I wouldn't expect anybody out there to be OK with being pushed around."
Logano said it was "hard racing" between him and Hamlin on the final lap in California, and noted that he was well aware of whom he was racing just then, in the aftermath of their run-in at Bristol Motor Speedway the previous week.
At Bristol, Logano was vying for the lead when the former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates got together. Logano took it personally.
"You feel like you got done wrong," Logano said. "You feel like you got spun out, so it doesn't help that relationship [with Hamlin], obviously. You remember that. That goes through your mind.
"When it comes to California, last 10 laps, I thought we had a great race going. Did I remember who I was racing against? Yes, I remember who I was racing against, and what happened the week before. But going into Turn 3 on the last lap, I remember I'm going to win the race. My No. 1 goal is to win a race.
"I drove in there hard, I got in there too hard, got into his door and we wrecked. Did I intentionally wreck him? No, I did not intentionally wreck him. If I was going to do that, I would have hit him in the left rear tire. I hit him in the door."
They made contact, and Hamlin spun down the track and impacted the inside concrete wall head-on, suffering a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra that ultimately sidelined him for six weeks.
Logano said he has replayed the race 100 times in his mind, and admits he "got in there [into the corner] too hard." After the race, unaware that Hamlin was injured, Logano said, "He probably shouldn't have done what he did last week [at Bristol], so that's what he gets," a comment for which he was maligned.
When he learned Hamlin was injured, he was "bummed out."
"You don't ever want to see someone get hurt, and that's why I would never wreck anyone on purpose at a racetrack that big, or really anywhere," Logano said. "I hate to see him get hurt. I feel like the comments after the race I made were taken way out of context.
"I feel like, I just got off of pit road, off a heated moment there, that caught me way off guard. And then a microphone gets shoved in your face. Obviously my mind wasn't straight, and I didn't know Denny was hurt. There's no way for me to know, and that got taken way out of context."
The "heated moment" Logano is referencing was a postrace run-in with Tony Stewart. After the race in California, Stewart was livid that Logano blocked his advance on the final restart, and parked his car in front of Logano's car on pit road to make his frustration known. Stewart got out and swung at Logano but did not connect with the punch, Logano said.
"When [Stewart] came up to me, I didn't know what he was mad about," Logano said. "I went back and looked at the replay, and I stand by the comments I made at the end of the race. If I was going to make that block 50 laps earlier, yes, that would be a dumb move. But [not] with 10 to go, when you're racing for a win."
Logano added that from his perspective, had he let Stewart alongside him, he would have been shuffled back to fifth place and been eliminated from any chance to win the race.
"If it was early in the race, I can understand being mad about that, and saying, 'What the heck was that about?'" Logano said. "But that late in the race, man, I get paid to win races -- that's my job."
After the race, Stewart lit into Logano on the Fox broadcast, calling him a "rich kid who never had to work." Logano chalked it up to heat-of-the-moment frustration.
"Do I appreciate comments like that? No, obviously I don't. Do I agree with him? No, I don't. I think everybody in this sport has worked to get to this level," Logano said. "You can't buy your way into a Sprint Cup ride. You can't buy your way into a really good Sprint Cup ride, either, and he realizes that.
"That's just heat of the moment. Does it make you mad when you hear that? Yes, of course. That's what he's trying to do. But I also understand the moment that was going on."
He has not spoken to Stewart. He doesn't intend to.
"I don't really have anything to say," he said.
Logano said he understands that these run-ins happen to race car drivers -- It's part of the job -- and feels that his reputation in the garage is that he's a good person, the same jovial person who entered the sport five years ago as an 18-year-old.
He said early in his career he felt he got walked on, and these days he doesn't tolerate that dynamic. As a result, he said, he can sense a greater respect among his peers.
"I feel like the level of respect is growing," he said. "I started very young, naive about a lot of the things that were going on around me. You have a lot to overcome, and a lot you don't know you have to overcome. I was an 18-year-old kid, learning how to drive a Sprint Cup car. So you've got to earn respect. That's how the sport works. You don't just jump in these cars and expect them to give you respect.
"I'm still who I've always been, but I'm not going to get walked on. I feel like I got walked on a lot, in the beginning in the sport. But I've grown up."