So who had Joey Logano in the Darth Vader of NASCAR pool?

How does a guy who looks like he weighs 120 pounds soaking wet become the most hated man on the track?

Logano certainly has made some enemies during the last few weeks. First Denny Hamlin, and now Tony Stewart.

And it won’t get any better now that Hamlin suffered a hairline fracture in his back after he crashed hard at Fontana on Sunday while he was jockeying with Logano for the win on the last lap.

Hamlin may be out a few weeks _ NASCAR is off this week in a rare break for Easter _ thereby crushing his shot at a Cup championship. "Hamlin hopes to be released today to fly to his home in North Carolina where he will be evaluated by Dr. Jerry Petty of Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates later this week," said Joe Gibbs Racing in a statement released on Monday.

Although Hamlin may be out a spell, Logano also has to watch his back now that he has provoked the most orney bear in NASCAR _ Tony Stewart.

Stewart, who had been mostly on good behavior of late, had one of his classic meltdowns after the race in Fontana, all because he thought Logano got overly aggressive while blocking him with 11 laps remaining.

Stewart chased down Logano and threw a punch along pit road after the race. Logano countered by throwing a water bottle.

Oh, my.

“If he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don’t care what lap it is, he won’t make it through the other end of it,” Stewart said after finishing 22nd. “If I didn’t hit the chip (on my rev limiter), he wouldn’t have made it through Turn 1 to begin with.

“I’m tired of these guys doing that stuff, especially out of a kid that has been griping about everybody else and then he does that the next week.”

In just two weeks, Logano’s reputation has gone from a guy who didn’t make much trouble to the main instigator on the circuit. He certainly has a share of culpability with the dustups involving Hamlin and Stewart, but anyone pointing fingers at Logano for intentionally hurting Hamlin is just plain wrong.

That was a byproduct of good, hard racing _ and the absence of a SAFER barrier along that stretch. Nothing more, nothing less.

“They had their Bristol run-in the week before and had been going at it before that,” SPEED TV analyst Kyle Petty said. “ Kyle Busch said it best last night on NASCAR Victory Lane – that was two guys focused solely on each other going for the win and they just got together. They were so focused on each other that they never thought about him catching them and going by them.  Davey Allison and I did it at Charlotte in 1992.  We’ve seen it 1,000,000 times with two guys going for the win.

“ Drivers drop their window nets and get out.  Everybody claps and we don’t think anything about it, but this time, Denny didn’t climb out uninjured.  But his injury doesn’t make the incident any different than it would have been.  I don’t think they were running at each other to wreck each other.  It was all about those two.  It’s not Joey’s fault.  I know it’s a stupid saying, but that was a racing incident. The injury doesn’t change anything.”

Regardless, Mr. Logano is a marked man.

Such is the deal when you are the Darth Vader of NASCAR.

 

George Diaz can be reached at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgediaz