Is Joey Logano NASCAR’s Villian?

At first glance, Joey Logano looks far from intimidating. On any given weekend, the driver of the No. 22 Penske Ford Mustang can be found grinning ear to ear to go along with a hearty dose of youthful laughter laden throughout his interviews. Yet, when a Cup Series win is on the line, don’t let his welcoming persona fool you.

By Austin Dickey, SI

Over the years, Logano (from Middletown, CT) has built a reputation for doing whatever it takes to win. Even if it means shoving another driver out of the way and potentially ruining their strong run in the process. When it comes to the moments that matter most, Logano is a ruthless, unapologetic antagonist that every driver dreads to see in their rearview mirror when crunch time rolls around.

The Logano that fans see in the garage area versus the Logano they see on the track are two very different people. While his personality is likable and refreshing, many in his fanbase have largely turned against him for his many run-ins with other drivers over the years. It seems as though no matter who Logano is with the helmet off, he will always be cast as a villain in the eyes of fans for the lengths he is willing to go in order to secure a victory.

Ironically, the win-at-all-costs driving style that fans chastise Logano for is awfully similar to the manner in which the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove. To be clear, the parallel between the two drivers stops at their driving styles. Their legacies, success, and personalities are worlds apart, yet the way fans reflect on Earnhardt Sr.’s aggression compared to Logano’s makes for a fascinating paradox regarding Logano’s personality.

A large reason as to why Earnhardt Sr. earned the nickname “The Intimidator” was not only because he would intimidate the competition off the track, but also off the track. He owned his actions shamelessly, apologized to no one, and maintained an ominous gaze that demanded others take him seriously.

That being said, he also always kept his cool when tensions got high and in doing so, he always managed to properly represent himself when his driving sparked controversy.

Fans adore Earnhardt Sr. to this day and rightfully so. He was the face of an era for NASCAR and grew the sport exponentially while creating a timeless legacy for himself. While a large part of this comes from talent, his persona and intimidating driving style are also a crucial part of Earnhardt Sr.’s legendary identity as one of NASCAR’s legends.

As for Logano, his bubbly personality seems to work against him. In the same way that Earnhardt Sr.”s personality perfectly complemented the way he drove, Logano’s personality seems to contradict his behavior on the track. Although fans are far more keen on detesting his driving style before his personality, Logano’s energy and charisma is a stark contrast to the villain role he plays when the race is on the line.

Logano is in the unique position where his contrasting identities leave him inevitably stuck in the dog house with the large majority of NASCAR fans. He could be extremely likable if his driving style matched his personality, or he could go the Earnhardt Sr. or Kyle Busch route and grow a following by embracing the bad guy role.

Instead he’s left with worst of both worlds, but it does not phase Logano in the slightest.

“I’m out there for one reason. That’s to win, not to make friends.” Logano said in an interview earlier in his career and he’s reiterated it time and time again.

Most recently, he punted William Byron into the Turn 3 wall at Darlington Raceway last Sunday to take the win in the Goodyear 400. After the race, Byron called Logano a “moron” to which he responded to by letting out a chuckle and saying, ““I’ve been called a lot of things, a lot worse than moron, too. I just witnessed a lot of it when I got out of the car actually. But no, that’s fine. Whatever. Call me what you want.”

Even though Logano has made his stance on the matter crystal clear, it is still fascinating to see how the incongruency between his identity as an athlete and as an individual has affected his popularity amongst the Cup Series fan base.

He is a one of a kind driver that embodies the importance of being yourself while still making sure to compete at all costs. It’s a rare quality in athletes and while he may not be appreciated for it now, it’s a remarkable trait that is bound to define his legacy at some capacity by the time he retires.

Since coming up to the Cup Series at the ripe age of 18, Logano has always maintained a level of playful youth, even as he pushes 32 years old now with three young children of his own.

With that in mind, it’s safe to say we’ll never know exactly how much more popular Logano could be if he maintained a consistent identity on and off the track. He refuses to change for anyone and within that noble loyalty to himself is the fascinating speculation of how the public eye would treat him differently if he fit a more traditional mold of NASCAR driver.

 

Regardless of what the fans think, Logano’s trophy case continues to get bigger as the years go on. With another trophy on the shelf after last weekend’s race, keep an eye on Logano this weekend at Kansas Speedway to see just how far he’s willing to go to secure yet another Cup Series victory.

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