Opinion: New beginning has turned into an old reminder for Joey Logano

Jared Wickerham

Joey Logano's skirmish with Denny Hamlin is a further reminder that he can't escape his past and the time he spent at Joe Gibbs Racing.

When Joey Logano left Joe Gibbs Racing and signed with Penske Racing, it was supposed to represent a new beginning. It was the perfect opportunity for him to escape being Tony Stewart's heir apparent.

But even as Logano has moved on from JGR and made himself at home with Penske, he still can't escape his past.

Logano's time at JGR was an uneven one, where disappointment and frustration were common and victories were rare.

While the organization was sincere when they said they wanted to keep Logano in the fold even after signing Matt Kenseth to replace him behind the wheel of the No. 20 car, it was in everyone's best interests if Logano moved on.

There were simply too many hurdles preventing him from forging his own identity. No matter how many races he won, Logano would have always been known as the guy who replaced Stewart.

Ultimately, the only way he could attempt to fulfill the expectations laid before him was to prove he could be one of the better drivers of his generation. And even then, it still might not have been enough considering the guy Logano was replacing at the time was a then-two-time series champion who would continue to win races and a title even after having left the security of JGR.

It also didn't help that there was never a question about the equipment Logano had underneath him during his tenure at JGR thanks to teammates who continually turned out wins and contended for championships.

From 2009 (Logano's first full year in Cup) to 2012, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin combined to win 30 races with six Chase appearances between them. In that same span Logano won just twice -- one win which was a rain-shortened event at that -- with a best finish of 16th in points.

In the end it was a relationship destined to fail. It was a situation where the expectations were always going to be sky-high and no matter the level of success, it was never going to be enough.

This is why it was a wise decision by Logano to sign with Penske and leave the team that had been grooming him for greatness since he was a teenager.

By joining Penske the pressure to perform, while still there, would be considerably less.

No longer would Logano have to live in the omnipresent shadow Stewart cast. Instead, Logano was bringing stability and optimism to a team which has had back-to-back tumultuous seasons first brought on by Kurt Busch's outbursts and then, AJ Allmendinger's positive drug test.

And while the relationship is still new and the season still young, by all accounts it appears Logano has equated himself quite nicely with his new team.

During the offseason Brad Keselowski spoke glowingly about his new teammate and how Logano was going to be a key cog if Keselowski were to successfully defend his championship.

Although the results haven't been there thus far for Logano and his No. 22 team, it is obvious that the performance is there -- or at least close to being there -- as the team has been in contention for top 10s in every race this season. At Phoenix a top-10 run evaporated when Logano ran out of gas in the closing laps, while a likely top 10 at Bristol went away thanks to the theatrics of Logano's run-in with Hamlin.

Which is another reason that encounter with Hamlin was unfortunate.

Instead of continuing to keep a low profile and build his own persona separate from his years at JGR, Logano again has to confront his underachieving time spent as a teammate to Hamlin -- something Hamlin was quick to remind Logano of Sunday as the two exchanged barbs.

"He said he was coming for me," Hamlin said at Bristol, recapping what Logano said to him in the garage post-race. "I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor."

Yet another reminder for Logano that sometimes you can't escape your past no matter how hard you try.

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