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As beer cans rained down on his car at Talladega Superspeedway, exploding as they hit his windshield, Joey Logano wasn’t upset or insulted or angry. He was smiling.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is actually really cool,’” he said. “It’s the ultimate compliment in motorsports.”
That sounds crazy, since fans were throwing cans at Logano out of anger he was declared the winner over Dale Earnhardt Jr. following a controversial finish last week. But Logano could remember other times when fans showered a car at Talladega with beverages — Jeff Gordon’s car in 2004 and 2007, to be specific — and that made him feel pretty good.
“I was a Jeff Gordon fan,” Logano said. “I’m like, ‘Why does everyone hate Jeff Gordon? What did he ever do to anyone?’ I thought he was a good role model, a good guy, he just wins a lot. … His career turned out pretty good, it seems like.”
At 25, Logano is on his way to becoming the next generation’s Jeff Gordon. He’s going to win a handful of championships over the next 15 or 20 years — with his first perhaps coming four weeks from now — along with a ton of races. And he’ll likely be smiling and squinting all along the way, punctuating his own words with laughter.
For whatever reason, though, the majority of fans don’t like him. The boos have only gotten louder during pre-race introductions this year, which doesn’t make sense when contrasted with his happy-go-lucky personality.
Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, who pushed for Logano to be hired after stumbling at Joe Gibbs Racing, believes Logano is in an area that happens to many young drivers.
“Joey is getting complimentary boos,” Keselowski said. “It’s like, ‘We like young winners when they win the first time; we don’t like when they win the 10th through 30th time.’ He’s getting those boos: ‘Now we don’t like you anymore.’”
But it’s more than just that for Logano, whose run of three straight wins has boosted his career total to 14. Fans view Logano as a spoiled punk who was overhyped as the best thing since “Sliced Bread” (his former nickname) and flopped while replacing Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing.
PHOTOS: Behind the wheel with Joey Logano
They don’t like the way he’s raced against some veteran drivers (Matt Kenseth at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago, for example). They think he comes across as arrogant or entitled during victory lane interviews.
They didn’t like the lack of sympathy he showed for Denny Hamlin’s back injury (“That’s what he gets”) following a wreck involving the drivers at Auto Club Speedway in 2013. Even though Logano later told USA TODAY Sports he had “no idea” Hamlin was hurt at the time and was referring to the spin with his comments, the damage in the public eye was done.
On the track, there’s enough fodder for fans to root against him. But in real life, Logano isn’t the villain NASCAR fans want him to be. He enjoys antiquing and working on classic cars, an old soul who chills at home with his wife, Brittany.
Logano isn’t wasting much energy on the fans who aren’t on his side. And he knows there are plenty, thanks to the modern version of hate mail: Twitter and Instagram comments. His notifications aren’t turned off, so Logano’s phone “blows up” when he posts a photo on Instagram.
“The comments come up and it’s like, ‘You’re a jerk,’ and a lot of (other comments) I can’t say right now,” Logano said, grinning widely. “But I smile every time because some of them are pretty creative. I’m like, ‘You put a lot of thought into that one! That’s a new one.’ I like the new ones. Those are good.”
But doesn’t Logano want to be liked? Doesn’t he care about trying to win over new fans at the same pace he’s been winning races?
It’s a question he doesn’t waste much energy thinking about.
“If you don’t like me, I don’t care,” he said. “The people that know me and know how I am and know the person I am are the ones I care about. Those are the ones that I care about the most and want them to like me.
“The rest of it is just kind of people just taking guesses of what you’re like and finding a reason why they don’t like you and they don’t really know you.”
Follow Gluck on Twitter @jeff_gluck