Logano already was a man

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Joey Logano's face was blood red and sweat was rolling down his face. He had a fist full of his thick, black hair in each hand pulling as though he was going to rip it out.

He was mad.

"Pissed off," as he not-so-delicately put it.

This quote was moments after the 20-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver parked his car on pit road Sunday at Pocono Raceway and confronted veteran Sprint Cup driver Kevin Harvick about the wreck that cost Logano a top-5 finish.

Later, a much-calmer Logano emerged from his hauler and gave what so far is the quote of the year: "It's probably not [Harvick's] fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.''

Many believe this is the moment the kid became a man.

Not true.

Logano already was a man. People may not notice because they are too wrapped up in his boyish smile, the goofy things he sometimes says and the fact that he likes to play video games, ride a skateboard and balance himself on a tire carrier for fun.

You don't step into a 3,500-pound machine and go toe-to-toe with some of the best drivers in the world without being a man. You also don't become one by standing up to somebody you believe is bullying you and then take shots at his wife.

But this moment probably had to happen, whether it was with Harvick or somebody else.

Tom Logano understands.

Ah, Daddy Logano, who for some is the villain in this story because he became involved on pit road to the point NASCAR officials called him to their principal's office afterward.

In a way, the actions of Logano's father were as deceiving as the smile that hides his son's passion.

First, he was on pit road helping out because Joey's manager wasn't able to be there. The most aggressive move he made wasn't brushing a television broadcaster aside, but attempting to keep a JGR crew member from keeping his son away from Harvick.

He wasn't trying to protect his son as some thought. He was trying to let him be his own man, not always an easy thing for a father to do.

"I don't belong in the pits at all, I believe,'' said the elder Logano, echoing what many have screamed since the incident. "I've adjusted to that. But as a parent you want to direct your son. I tried to direct Joey yesterday to go after him. Take care of business.''

That didn't mean he wanted Joey to physically attack Harvick. He would have been upset had his son gone after the Richard Childress Racing driver with his car on the track, saying that is a "girl's way of handling things.''

He just wanted Joey to settle, man to man, an issue that had been building since Harvick spun his son out in a Nationwide Series race earlier in the year. He wanted Joey to let everybody in the garage know he can't be pushed around because of his age.

"He's never been treated in that kind of [way], just being wrecked a couple of times,'' Tom said. "It finally got to him. Being as young as he is, as you work through life, you experience things and act accordingly.

"Sometimes you gain respect from giving respect. Sometimes you gain respect from fear. If they don't fear him, they'll walk all over him, and I think he realizes that. He's just reacting like any normal man would.''

Yes, Tom understands his son is a man even though he constantly refers to him as a kid -- as most do. He understands his son doesn't need him the way he did when he raced go-karts and Late Models so well that at the age of 15 Mark Martin called him the "real deal'' and said he would be "one of the greatest that ever raced in NASCAR.''

"I used to go to the track Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,'' Tom said. "Now I just fly in for the race. It's the next aspect of me growing as a parent. He can handle his stuff and I'm going to sit in the stands.

"I don't need to be in the hauler. I don't need to be in the mix. I've got my own business. I've got my own life.''

So does Joey, but he grew up watching his father run a waste disposal company in Connecticut. He watched how his dad handled situations professionally and personally.

It's only natural that he reacted Sunday in the way his father might.

"Discussing things with other type people is the way he was brought up,'' Tom said. "That's what life is all about. Some people you can reason with and some people you can't. The people you can't reason with, they're going to keep stepping on you and you've got to step back.''

This was the first time Joey has had to step back in this way, having been so dominant in lower series that most were playing catch-up. It came at a time when he and the team believe he's good enough to challenge for the Chase with three straight finishes of 13th or better.

"His buttons have been pushed and pushed and he's gotten to the point in life where he realizes what he's got to do now,'' Tom said. "I tried to teach him to handle it, man to man.''

That's what Joey tried to do before team officials stepped in. They were doing what they thought was right, protecting their driver then just as they protected him on Monday by canceling several of Joey's radio and television interviews to let him cool down.

Maybe Joey doesn't need protecting anymore. Maybe the man who raised him was right, that it's time to let him stand on his own and handle his own battles.

"Maturity-wise he's ahead of a lot of people,'' Tom said. "At my point in his career I have to back off. I did as much as I could for him. I was just trying to give him a little direction.

"He's obviously a lot more restrained in life than I am. He likes to be as diplomatic as possible. When it gets to the point where he can't be diplomatic anymore I guess he's seen how I've reacted to different things in my life.''

Tom's reaction got him in trouble last year at California. His gesture to Greg Biffle on pit road was deemed out of line by NASCAR and his annual pass was rightfully yanked.

Joe Gibbs [Joey] does have a real fire. Now, he controls himself. He's somebody that rarely gets out of control. But I definitely think he's got a real passion for what he does. It means a lot to him.

-- Team owner Joe Gibbs

But let's get real. Family members being involved in auto racing disputes have been a part of the sport seemingly forever. Remember in 2006, when Biffle's then-girlfriend was reprimanded for her confrontation with Kurt Busch's then-fiance after the drivers wrecked at Texas?

And when Sam Hornish Jr.'s dad pushed Tony Kanaan after a 2007 Indy Racing League race at Watkins Glen, and then was dragged to the ground in an all-out scrum?

"That's why dads should be in the grandstands, not in the pits,'' Kanaan said at the time.

That may be a bit drastic. If you ban dads from pit road then you'd have to ban wives and everybody else with a genealogical connection.

But Tom said he understands his role. He also understands what most people outside of JGR are just realizing, that his son is a man with a lot of fire in his belly.

"He's got the passion,'' Tom said of his son, who is 17th in points, 101 points out of the Chase after a 13th-place finish that should have been much better. "He's got the desire to win. He's very competitive, which is great.''

Ditto says JGR owner Joe Gibbs.

"He does have a real fire,'' Gibbs said. "Now, he controls himself. He's somebody that rarely gets out of control. But I definitely think he's got a real passion for what he does. It means a lot to him.''

The world got to see that on Sunday for the first time. They got to see a young man who was willing to stand up to another many believe could break him in half to make his point.

But they didn't see Joey grow into a man.

He already was one.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.