Head-to-head: Joey Logano vs. Denny Hamlin

Dan Beaver

NASCAR has a way of developing great storylines.

Last fall, two drivers with no lost love between them entered the Bluegreen Vacations 500k at Phoenix, with one race before the finale, battling for the last playoff slot.

When Joey Logano was dismissed from Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of 2012, he left embittered teammates behind. Seven years later, it seemed that there was still no one that organization collectively would like to beat than Logano.

He and Denny Hamlin have had their share of on-track shoving matches through the years that have carried over onto pit road. Kyle Busch has tried to get in his share of the licks and yet, the driver once known as ‘Sliced Bread’ continues to challenge.

Hamlin should have had the advantage at Phoenix last year. There are few drivers better than him on a short, flat track, but he was coming off a bad effort at Texas. Meanwhile Logano finished fourth in the AAA Texas 500 and came to Arizona with more momentum on his side.

The No. 12 team missed the setup badly; the No. 11 was almost perfect. But for portions of the race, Logano was in contention when Hamlin was not in the lead. Those ‘portions’ were scant.

Hamlin removed any doubt about his position as a contender with the Phoenix win. By advancing, he denied the 2018 champion an opportunity to defend the title. And there had to be a little satisfaction in that for Hamlin, Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. Those three had the opportunity to gang up on Kevin Harvick—the only non-Gibbs’ guy in the Championship 4.

A new season wipes the slate clean in most instances. But not in regard to longstanding rivalries; they seem to fester in the quiet months.

 

Joey Logano

Race

Finish

Start

Avg. Run

Phoenix

1

13

6.03

Auto Club

12

7

10.5

Las Vegas

1

5

4.24

Daytona

26

3

9.02

Average

10.0

7.0

7.43*

 

And guess what? The quiet months for the COVID-19 break will not improve the relationship between these two drivers. Absence does not always make the heart grow fonder.

These drivers and organizations are evenly matched. Through the first four weeks, Penske has outperformed Gibbs. Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski join Logano among the top 10 in points. Gibbs has struggled more than anticipated with modest runs from Busch and Truex – but no one in their right mind expects that trend to continue.

Logano has a decided statistical advantage over Hamlin at the moment. With a league-leading Average Running Position of 7.43 to Hamlin’s 16.99 he is much more accustomed to racing with the leaders. His Driver Rating of 105.8 is considerably better than Hamlin’s 80.4 and that is not only because of the Phoenix mistake.

But it is practically impossible to draw season-long conclusions from a four-week schedule that includes the wild card Daytona 500.

Hamlin and Logano are locked into the playoffs early in the season, which gives them the opportunity to test setups and take risks no one other than Alex Bowman can take. When the season restarts, it is going to be fast-paced and crowded. More likely than not there will be no off weeks and fans could finally see the midweek races they have clamored for throughout the entire duration of the Modern Era.

 

Denny Hamlin

Race

Finish

Start

Avg. Run

Phoenix

20

3

23.7

Auto Club

6

28

10.4

Las Vegas

17

4

21.0

Daytona

1

21

12.9

Average

11.0

14.0

16.99*

 

Phoenix proves to be critical once more. Last week Logano won his second race of the season when he got track position over Kevin Harvick in the closing laps. Hamlin spent most of the race trying to get back on the lead lap after an incident in which he broke loose early in the race and drove Penske’s Blaney and Keselowski into the wall.

NASCAR tends to create great storylines.

It’s not something done artificially; it just seems to happen year after year. In 2020, the championship race will be held at Phoenix. Logano won the fall race in 2016; Hamlin won it last year. Both drivers know how to make their cars turn on the oddly-shaped flat track and if they can successfully navigate the first three rounds of the playoffs, they will be highly focused on one another.

Logano holds the advantage in terms of championships, but he was a bit of a dark horse in 2018. Hamlin came as close as second in 2010 and has a couple of third-place standings. He’ll be hungry this fall. Or perhaps it’ll be this winter, but one way or another the championship race will happen and these two drivers will have one another in their sights.

* NASCAR Statistical Services Average Running Position through Week 4.

Previous Head-to-head matchups:

Aric Almirola vs. Alex Bowman
Jimmie Johnson vs. Kurt Busch
Kevin Harvick vs. Kyle Busch
Tyler Reddick vs. William Byron
Chris Buescher vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.