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November 14, 2018

Analysis: Title opponents all felt impact of Logano’s ‘Gremlin’ tendencies

A graphic of the Championship 4

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came up with the phrase a little more than two years ago to describe Joey Logano and his aggressive style. The “Sliced Bread” handle that fit Logano as a stock-car prodigy was making way for its successor as the driver found his way into contention more frequently — often by bruising his way there.

According to Earnhardt, “Sliced Bread” had become a “Gremlin.” It’s a telling characteristic that the rest of the Championship 4 know all too well.

Logano will vie again for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM), matching wits with veterans Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. — all one-time champs who have tasted the title within the last five years. The other common thread for that trio: On-track run-ins over the years with a feisty Logano that didn’t quite ignite full-fledged rivalries, but set a tone of irritation with how they sometimes competed.

STATS: Best Championship 4 ever

Truex’s complaint with Logano is the most recent. Just three races ago, Logano clinched his spot among the championship contenders at Truex’s expense, executing a patented bump-and-run tactic on the final lap at Martinsville Speedway. The purposeful nudge prompted pointed words from the defending series champ, who hinted at payback — or at least a no-slack approach to their future battles — in post-race interviews.

Logano’s past transgressions with Busch run back to last year’s season-ending event and beyond. In the 2017 finale, Busch took issue with Logano’s blocking technique as Truex scooted away to the title. The year before, Busch took a swing at Logano after last-lap contact at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, touching off a scrum that required crewmembers to separate them.

The history for Logano and Harvick dates back further, with one galvanizing highlight. In 2010 at Pocono Raceway, Harvick brushed Logano into a long slide that knocked him from contention, leading to a heated post-race jawing match on pit road afterward. Logano punctuated it with a barb directed to Harvick’s wife, DeLana, about who wore the fire suit in the family. At the time, DeLana Harvick was a fixture atop the pit box in a full-logo driver’s suit.

Has time healed the wounds? In some cases, yes, but in others, not so much. But no matter the rules of engagement among the four title hopefuls, the gremlin-like tendencies have created a polarizing fervor in the fan response to the driver of the Team Penske No. 22.

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In the weeks since the Truex incident at Martinsville, the crowd reaction for Logano during pre-race driver introductions has been mixed at best, with a flurry of boos at worst. His crew chief, Todd Gordon, has heard the reaction, adopting an old Dale Earnhardt mantra — as long as they’re reacting, you’re doing something right.

“You know, at the end of a day, if you’re up there and you have noise being made, I think it means that you’re doing the right things and you’re being competitive, because your fans are very passionately cheering you,” Gordon said, “But the fans of … you have 39 competitors that their fans probably, if you’re very successful and you’re competitive, they’re going to make noise in the opposite direction.

“You know, volume speaks for what you’re able to accomplish, not necessarily the words that come out of it.”