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ANDERS: Logano remains genuine during fallout

NASCAR Phoenix Auto Racing
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Joey Logano walks before qualifications for Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Friday, Match 17, 2017, in Avondale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Sports fans will find any reason not to like a particular athlete or team.

Maybe he or she said or did something they didn’t like. Maybe they don’t like how the athlete treats reporters, or don’t like how the team seems to get all the calls and all the good breaks all the time (looking at you, Duke).

I had, and still have, my teams that I don’t like, most likely because they are a rival or benefitted at the expense of a favorite team of mine (still looking at you, Duke).

Booing the team or athlete you hate is as much a part of sports fandom as cheering the team or athlete you love.

But I can’t, just can’t, understand all the hate for Joey Logano.

The guy has raw talent coming out of his ears. In a generation that has seen so many so-called “can’t miss” stars flame out before reaching the top, he made the most of a second chance after his hasty rise up the ranks at Joe Gibbs Racing left him beaten down and nearly out of the sport for good.

He’s marketable and great on camera. He’s also an unabashed competitor and someone who is unapologetic about the fact he shows up to do one thing every weekend: race people hard.

And he’s professional, which he showed Friday.

Footage of Logano’s post-race skirmish with Kyle Busch made the rounds all week, as is to be expected. Both spoke Friday before qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway.

Logano gave thoughtful, honest insight into what he called (and what, for the record, I believe clearly was) a racing incident, one in which he simply got loose, slid up the banking to catch his car and made contact with Busch. He owned his mistake.

Busch went full-on Marshawn Lynch, answering nearly every question he got with “Everything’s great,” and avoiding the issue.

That’s his right. If anything, it plays into the persona Busch has cultivated for himself. But Logano was personable and came off as genuine.

Logano has been in the Cup Series so long it’s easy to forget that he’s only 26 years old. He has had his missteps in how he has handled similar situations in the past (ask Matt Kenseth how that turned out), but the fact he called Busch during the week to clear the air before the two met with NASCAR on Friday showed Logano learned from that situation, which is all anyone can be asked to do.

Whether or not anything else comes of the situation remains to be seen, but the fact Logano handled this week as professionally as he could is pretty indisputable. The guy made a mistake, then momentarily stood his ground when Busch confronted him before he was picked up and whisked away by a team member, an image that surely won’t help his reputation of being someone who can’t fight his own battles.

That said, he handled every media opportunity about as well as he could have this week. He was honest, apologetic and mature. All of those are things you would think fans would want in their favorite driver.

But, then, fans will find any reason, right?

Speaking of fans, does anyone remember “The Notebook?” It’s not a bad film (you know, from what I hear). More specifically, does anyone remember the scene where Ryan Gosling looks at Rachel McAdams and asks her repeatedly, ‘What do you want?’ in regards to her life?

As I was on social media reading the response to the Logano/Busch scuffle at Vegas, that scene immediately popped in my head.

Go a few races without any kind of conflict, and the fanbase decries how things are boring, how there’s no spice. They finally get the conflict they’re looking for, and I’m on Twitter seeing words thrown about like “ridiculous” and fans unfavorably questioning whether NASCAR is becoming like UFC.

The fickle nature of NASCAR fans is unparalleled, something I’ve stated here many times. The dust-up between Busch and Logano breathed some life into the early part of the year and got the sport some attention on a day where most of the sports world was wrapped up in Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament.

I’m not advocating a full-on brawl every single week, but in a sport where the era of rivalries has been supplanted with drivers who are almost overly friendly with one another, it was nice to see some drama and emotion. You know, those things that fans often complain are gone from NASCAR.

Well, they got it last week and all that came were more complaints.

So, NASCAR fans, I ask you: What do you want?

PREDICTION

If anything else comes of Logano/Busch, I doubt it’s today at Phoenix. Logano is on the pole and Busch starts ninth. As far as a winner, I’m taking the kid who starts second today and has been in the top 10 fastest cars all weekend long.

PICK: Ryan Blaney.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 or follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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