FONTANA, Calif. (AP) – Roger Penske bristled Monday at “petty” barbs against Joey Logano for his wealthy upbringing and defended his driver in the fallout from Sunday’s race at California that left Denny Hamlin in a hospital.
Logano was involved in a last-lap accident with Hamlin and then had a post-race altercation with Tony Stewart.
“Listen, Joey is a great driver and what happened at the end there wasn’t anything more than hard racing,” Penske told The Associated Press. “I stand behind him and I think he’s going to go down as one of the greatest drivers to ever race.”
Predictions like Penske’s are one reason why it suddenly seems the garage has turned against the 22-year-old Logano, who came into NASCAR with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008 with the nickname “Sliced Bread.” He’d risen rapidly through the racing ranks with the financial backing from his father, Tom, who used funds from the family’s Connecticut waste management company to help his two children pursue their dreams.
Logano had the means to pursue a racing career, and was in Georgia racing quarter midgets at the age of 6 while his older sister chased a life of competitive ice skating.
Stewart took aim at that upbringing after Sunday’s race, calling Logano “nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life.” The sentiment was amped up Monday when Patricia Driscoll, girlfriend of Kurt Busch, referred to Logano as (hash)TrustFundRacer in a series of tweets that accused him of reckless racing with “no less than 5 drivers.”
“We were lucky that none of the others were hurt by his actions,” Driscoll tweeted.
An agitated Penske thought the criticism was out of line.
“He’s a solid young man and his family has supported him in racing as many families of professional athletes do in every sport,” Penske said. “Anyone who looks at that as a criticism, to focus on that is just petty.”
Penske also defended Logano for his television interview immediately after the race when Logano said of Hamlin; “He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets.” Fans have criticized Logano for the remark, accusing him of wishing harm to Hamlin, who spent Sunday night in a California hospital under observation with a potential back injury.
“That’s a tough thing, Joey had no idea what the situation was with Denny when he was doing the interview,” Penske said. “It’s one of those things that came out and taken out of context isn’t what he meant. He can’t take it back, but people are certainly blowing that up to mean something different than what he knew at the time.”
As for Stewart, who nearly came to blows with Logano on pit road before the two were separated by crew members because Stewart felt Logano had blocked him?
“The comments by Tony — he’s one of the best blockers in the business,” Penske said. “I’ve watched the video, I’ve seen what happened, and there’s nothing there that should be an issue.”
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