COMMENTARY | Just because a couple drivers are on the same team, it doesn't mean it's all high-fives between them. Look at the world of Formula 1, where teammates often don't even speak to each other due to the highly competitive atmosphere of the sport.
But in NASCAR, it's usually civil between teammates, and often there is a close bond. But after seeing how Denny Hamlin and his now-former teammate Joey Logano are smack-talking to each other this season, it's clear their relationship hasn't always been kosher.
The drama in 2013 goes back to after this year's Daytona 500, when Hamlin was quick to go to Twitter and post a tweet saying: "@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", a reference to the driving of Logano -- Hamlin's former teammate and now Brad's new teammate at Penske Racing.
Now, after Sunday's Bristol race and Hamlin/Logano's on and off-track confrontations, Joey was the first to social media, posting this retort that referenced the "genius" comment: "Hey @dennyhamlin great job protecting that genius brain of yours by keeping your helmet on"
Obviously, this is not over. Logano feels disrespected, and wants Hamlin to know how he feels, hence the drama at Bristol.
Logano's online post got quite a response from Joey's followers on Twitter and Facebook, ranging from agreement that Hamlin is a "big jerk" or much worse names, to others bashing Joey for being a "little child" and "immature"; one commenter took a mediation approach, saying: "Both if you need to grow up. Appreciate the blessings you have."
That won't happen, to be blunt. Racers have big egos, plus Hamlin and Logano obviously have some history here that we might not have known about because they were teammates.
You don't go to a new team and have your old teammate instantly start talking trash without some sort of seed for that fighting coming from the time you were on the same team. Perhaps Denny didn't believe Joey was doing enough to help lift the Joe Gibbs team up to the level of a championship contender, or maybe it's just a personal beef between the two.
One thing is for sure: I don't think these two are going to share a brunch anytime soon.
And that's good for NASCAR, in my view. I always love rivalries (Bobby Allison didn't even like to hear the name Richard Petty; that kind of thing is missing from today's NASCAR), and the fact that these rivalries can be fully fleshed out in new venues like social media sites makes it even more fun.
But I have a theory when it comes to Logano, who in his short time in the sport hasn't shied away from confronting the biggest-name competitors (remember the comment to Kevin Harvick about "who wears the firesuit"?; easily one of the best digs of all time). And it all goes back to Logano's start in the sport.
I clearly remember May 2008, when Joey Logano made his debut in the Nationwide Series at Dover. He was literally debuting as soon as his 18th birthday came and allowed him to compete in the series, or he would have done it even sooner.
The hype around it was unbelievable. The luminaries of the sport were heralding this young teenage driver as the greatest things since, well, "sliced bread" (funny how that nickname disappeared as he struggled).
Logano was going to be the next Earnhardt, Gordon, Johnson, etc. He was a guaranteed superstar with the expectations of the world on his shoulders, and his early performance in the Nationwide Series seemed to indicate that would become a reality.
But life in Cup has been a harsh reality for Logano. In 151 starts he has 2 wins, 16 top 5 runs, 41 top 10 finishess and 5 pole positions. Not exactly superstar numbers.
Many of those commenters who call Joey's outbursts immature are missing the point. It's actually the opposite. He's tired of being pushed around by some of the more senior drivers, and is standing up for himself so he will be respected. People still view him as a kid, and he is trying to dispel that though process. So I don't blame him for having a chip on his shoulder at times, especially when it involves a former teammate who obviously has little respect for him and may have held that opinion for many years.
Logano has a huge upside still, and I'm glad to see Penske taking a chance with Logano. With a championship teammate like Brad Keselowski to mentor him and help him mature into a Chase-level driver, Joey has the potential to finally live up to all the hype during his tenure at Penske.
Maybe, in the end, Logano will be all hype and he'll be more of a Casey Atwood than a Jeff Gordon (I doubt it, but you never know).
But don't get mad at Logano for standing his ground and taking on detractors like Denny.
If he doesn't stand his ground, he'll always be viewed as a kid. It's the same transition his teammate Keselowski went through, and now Joey's fighting battles of his own.
Next time Hamlin and Joey get near each other on the track, pay attention. Something exciting might happen. And excitement is something this sport could definitely use (all those empty seats at Bristol were a testament to the fact that many fans have tuned out).
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Joey Logano
- Denny Hamlin