Jeff Gordon defends Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick in the face of criticism
Quite the antithesis of today's warm pre-race receptions, there was a time years ago when Jeff Gordon was regularly showered with boos and jeers.
Unlike his current farewell tour — if you wish to call it that — in which he's consistently received massive cheers during driver introductions, Gordon used to draw the ire of fans at tracks in all corners of the country for winning too often.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver was particularly loathed back in the day by supporters of the late Dale Earnhardt, whose fans seemed to feel threatened by Gordon's amazing success and fast rise to stardom.
All that brings us to this past week — a week when two of sport's biggest stars, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, have received major heat from fans for completely different reasons.
Logano has been punished by Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s massing fan base on Twitter for edging out their driver in Sunday's controversial finish at Talladega Superspeedway.
Many of Earnhardt's fans believe their driver, who needed to win the race to advance in the Chase, was robbed by NASCAR, which declared Logano the winner following a video review of the finish.
Harvick, meanwhile, has been the target of harsh words from both fans and some fellow drivers who contend he deliberately wrecked Trevor Bayne late in Sunday's elimination race at Talladega to keep his title hopes alive.
If anyone can relate to the scrutiny both Harvick and Logano have endured this week, it's Gordon, who once upon a time was Public Enemy No. 1 of a large segment of NASCAR's fan population.
So if Logano and Harvick find themselves getting booed over the season's final few weeks, will it negatively affect their psyche moments before all-important Chase races?
"Not if things are going well for you," Gordon said on Friday at Martinsville Speedway. "I think if things aren't going well, then you did something that caused that reaction from the fans, then that will eat at you a little bit. But, if you're like Joey, he's doing everything right, right now. I don't think there is one single thing he can sit there and say, 'Yeah, I wish I hadn't of done that; that was a bad idea as far as Talladega is concerned.' "
Logano also has come under some scrutiny for a late-race bump of Matt Kenseth two weekends ago at Kansas that resulted in Kenseth wrecking and the Team Penske driver winning. While Kenseth missed out on his best opportunity to move on in the Chase and keep his championship hopes alive, Logano had already clinched a berth in the next round by virtue of his win the previous week.
"With what happened with him and Matt, that's a consequence that he'll have to weigh out, and we'll only see if that was a smart move or not," Gordon said. "He's already locked in (for the Chase Eliminator Round). Were you doing it to keep Matt out of it? Or were you doing it just because you're aggressive and want to win?
"You can't blame the guy for that. So, they're doing everything right. They're winning races and they're the team to beat, and I don't think any negativity is going to impact what they're doing right now."
As for Harvick, Gordon hasn't been quite as impressed the past few weeks, but the four-time champion is by no means willing to count out the reigning champ down the season's final stretch.
"They're kind of on the fence there because they've shown some weakness and, not to mention, I don't think it sets well with him when Joey is doing well," Gordon said of Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team. "So, it's a double whammy for him. But those guys have a great way, and Kevin is really good at recovering in those kinds of things."