Joey Logano: the 'new' Joey Logano (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
So, what lap will Tony Stewart take out Joey Logano in Sunday's Martinsville 500?
Or is that 'feud' so two weeks ago, like Smoke insists?
Does NASCAR need to consider a 'blocking rule,' as Formula 1 has – a driver gets one move to block, but not two. ( http://bbc.in/10Faqnf )
Ol' Smoke says he won't accept even one block. And he made that point with his fists at California the last time out.
So maybe the question is which lap will Stewart take out Logano?
Actually, that's almost certainly not the way it's going to play out. Not very subtle.
Stewart isn't the only guy upset with Logano. So is Denny Hamlin, sidelined at least through mid-May with a fracture in his back from that California crash.
Hamlin and Logano haven't talked. Stewart and Logano haven't talked.
NASCAR apparently hasn't talked with any of these guys either.
Good for business?
Certainly. That may be a hard way to look at it, but feuding and fighting sells tickets.
"People want to see real life drama, you know," Brian Vickers says.
"They want 'the good, the bad and the ugly.'
"You want drama, you want to see raw emotions -- and sometimes you're going to get them exactly in that form. Sometimes you're going to get less of it, sometimes you're going get more of it.
"But what people want is reality. They want reality television. They want 'real;' they don't want planned reality. They want real people pushing themselves to the limit, and expressing the raw emotions. And you're going to have feuds when you do that."
Brian Vickers: NASCAR is certainly 'reality tv' (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jeff Burton, who has had his moments of emotion during his career, has figured out how to handle tough moments.
One of those came right here a few years ago, with Jimmie Johnson. "I wrecked him and had to go apologize," Burton said. "I walked up into his hauler, through his team… and as I was walking in there, I was like 'I'm too small for this.'
"But when you screw up, if you're not going to man up and admit 'I screwed up,' you're never going to improve.
"We learn by messing up.
"But people that are hard-headed, people that are difficult to deal with, are the people who won't look in the mirror and say 'I messed up.'
"You can't talk to somebody like that.
"And there are times when relationships become so strained you can't have a logical conversation.
"You can't blame Denny being upset. I crushed my vertebrae years ago, and it hurts.
"We live together; we've got to race together. We've got to, somewhat, get along.
"Even if you don't like the guy, you still have to have some professional respect.
"They'll find a way through it, but it's probably going to take time.
"I'm sure Denny -- in the position he's in -- is bitter about it.
"I think Joey has his feet dug in the sand too."
Words of wisdom from Jeff Burton....who says maybe Joey Logano needs to listen more (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Burton says he has no problem racing side by side with Logano. But he says Logano has been put in a difficult spot, now driving for Roger Penske, teammate with the sport's defending champion, and under pressure to perform….not just from his team and owner but from outside too.
"Joey has been in a position where people have been pushing him….they have their 'foot on his back,' pushing him into being a tough guy," Burton says.
"'Stand up for yourself.' They even say it on TV.
"That has put Joey in an uncomfortable position."
Logano's critics, Burton says, may be 'piling on,' in this controversy.
On the other hand, Burton points out, "when he does get confronted with issues, I don't think he handles it very well.
"He doesn't just step back and say 'Okay, let me listen to what you're saying. I may disagree with you but let me listen.'
"He tends to resist.
"I had an issue with him a few years ago, and I encouraged him to go look at the tape. I had already looked at it, so I knew what it showed.
"The next week I asked him if he had looked at it, and he said 'No, I don't need to.'
"That kind of attitude is not welcomed."
Tony Stewart: doesn't like blocking. And he's willing to make that point quite clear (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
However Burton points out that what is sometimes lost in this is that Logano is just 22. Perhaps reflect how Jeff Gordon was doing at that point in his career…
"Joey is a good person, he is a good driver…growing up in front of everybody. He's had a lot of pressure.
"He's growing up in front of all of us. The way I came up was easier, because I was running for teams that weren't supposed to win. I was told finish 20th."
Johnson suggests Logano should be making moves to defuse the situation: "Pick up the phone and call a guy. Go find them.
"You don't have to do it in front of the cameras. But just go find a guy and tell him how you feel.
"That is the route I have chosen. I think you can be far more effective by engaging with someone.
"'Hey, look, we've got to bury the hatchet.'
"Or drive to somebody’s house. We all live within 30 miles of one another.
"Or go sit at the bar and wait for him and punch him in the face…
"There are a lot of options.
"It's a hard phone call to make, or a hard face-to-face conversation, when you have taken somebody out of the race. But Jeff Burton handled things that way with me here; I had so much respect for him that he walked through my transporter, past my guys, didn't lie to me, and said 'Man, I just used you up.'
"I was like 'Man, I don't know how to really react…but I appreciate you coming in here.'
"It showed me how I would like to handle things."
Danica Patrick: welcome to Martinsville. Wonder if she'll still be smiling after Sunday's 500? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And, uh, this sticky issue of blocking.
It's the way the game is now played at Daytona and Talladega. (Though it wasn't always that way – remember the criticism Neil Bonnett took at Talladega back when?)
Johnson, on blocking: "With plate racing, that is how you maintain your position. You spend 90 percent of your time in the mirror and 10 percent looking out the windshield.
"In road racing, blocking is the most frustrating, and most visible.
"In open-wheel they give you one move to defend, and then you have to sit still. We don't have that situation. That gets really frustrating at Sonoma and Watkins Glen…
"But blocking is part of what we do; sometimes it works in your favor, other times it doesn't. Sometimes a driver will understand it, and other times he doesn't.
"When you are in the sport long enough, you realize what those decisions could lead to…and honestly who you throw a block on. They could come back and haunt you.
"And I assume when you see Tony, you probably expect something is going to happen. He has made that known over the years."
So will Joey Logano, one way or another, be the story Sunday afternoon?
Ryan Newman, talking with the boss, Tony Stewart. Is there something amiss in the Stewart camp this spring? The three teams aren't performing that well (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And then there is Danica Patrick, here for the first time, a bit leery about what to expect in her first run at this flat half-mile.
"Am I going to go out there and be just fine, or am I going to go out there and be a total disaster?" she wonders.
"I have a feeling it's going to be really challenging, and probably a little overwhelming right at first."
Patrick was stellar at Daytona in the season-opener, but since then it's been a slog. She starts 43rd Sunday (after an engine change). In her four previous Cup races she's started 40th, 37th, 41st and 40th. Little wonder she has one of the worst driver ratings numbers this season.
She says she'll be relying on teammate and boss Tony Stewart for advice.
However Stewart and third-team driver Ryan Newman are not doing all that well this season either. In fact the three Stewart teams are noticeable off.
Such low expectations here, Patrick says, may work to her advantage:
"The more expectation level that exists, and the longer you've been around, that's when I get more nervous.
"Being here the first time, and understanding how challenging it is, I feel it's only up from here.
"I have no doubt it will be a hard day, but it can also be a really fun day."
The season's first five races, she conceded, "have not been as good as I had hoped.
"We need to get a grasp on what I need out of this new car."
As well as new crew chief Tony Gibson worked with Patrick at Daytona, well, things haven't been so good in the six weeks since.
"Tony and I need to come up with a baseline balance set-up that works," Patrick says.
"I don't know how long that will take. But I was happy at least at Fontana; I really thought I was going to get lapped five or more times at least. That's how bad I felt in practice.
"We did end up a lap down, but at least we were kind of respectable. Most importantly we made the car better throughout the whole race. That was something that hasn't happened really all season."
Patrick finished 26th in the California 400.
Mark Martin: subbing for injured Denny Hamlin at Martinsville. Martin thus has a potentially winning car, if he can translate Hamlin's notes (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)