Challenging for the checkered flag on the final lap is what racing is all about, is it not?
That whole "boys have at it" mentality NASCAR gave its seal of approval to a couple of years ago has taken full effect early on in the 2013 race season. Most recently, it's left Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, sidelined with a spinal injury and Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, throwing punches in the direction of Joey Logano, driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford. And don't forget those 28 or so fans who were injured by debris flying into the grandstands at the end of the Nationwide Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 23.
Hamlin will be sidelined approximately six weeks as a result of a last lap incident in the Auto Club 400 Sprint Cup Series race in Fontana, Calif., last Sunday. As he and Logano raced side-by-side for the win on the final lap, the two drivers made contact that sent Logano's car into the outside retaining wall and Hamlin's car head-on into the inside wall. While Hamlin was awake and alert and able to climb out of his car under his own power, he collapsed soon after getting out of the car and was sent to a local hospital.
A rift was created between the former JGR teammates (Logano previously drove the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing) at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway a week earlier when the two drivers made contact. A Twitter war then ensued between the two drivers the week between the Bristol and Fontana races.
“We worked it last week (at Bristol)," Logano said after the Fontana race. "He probably shouldn't have done what he did last week, so that's what he gets."
As for Stewart (also a former driver of the No. 20 at JGR) and Logano, Stewart got upset at Logano after Logano blocked him on a restart in the final 15 laps of the race at Auto Club Speedway. After the race, Stewart headed over to Logano's car and threw several punches, none of which actually made contact with Logano.
“I had to throw the block there," Logano said of the incident with Stewart. "That was a race for the lead. I felt if the 14 got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race, so I was just trying to protect the spot I had. I was actually pedaling, because I couldn't keep the 18 aligned. I was actually faster than the 18 getting our tires hooked up. And then I'm trying to stagger myself making sure I don't beat him to the line and then I had to block the 14 because I was pedaling it. I'll talk to him and we'll see what happens. I think he finished decent. We'll just talk about it some more.”
One common denominator in these incidents, with the exception of the Nationwide race at Daytona, is Logano. Does that mean that he's doing something wrong? Does he have a chip on his shoulder?
While I don't like to see a driver injured, or worse, I do believe that these incidents could be chalked up to racing incidents. And after all, isn't this racing? Shouldn't a racer do whatever he can to stay in front of his competition? If drivers are expected to pull over and let faster cars pass, that would pretty much take the driver out of the equation. Then racing would just be about which car is the fastest and have little or nothing to do with a driver's talent and abilities.
"For a guy that has been complaining about how everybody else is driving here and then (for) him to do that it’s a double standard," Stewart said. "He makes the choice. He makes the decision to run us down there and when you run a driver down there then you take responsibility for what happens after that. He is a tough guy on pit road as soon as one of his crew guys gets in the middle of it. Until then he’s a scared little kid. Then he wants to sit there and throw a water bottle at me. He is going to learn a lesson. He can run his mouth on Twitter and stuff all he wants tonight. I’ve got plenty of people that are going to watch for that. It’s time he learns a lesson. He’s run his mouth long enough. He has sat there and done this double standard and he’s nothing but a little rich kid that has never had to work in his life. He’s going to learn with us working guys that had to work our way up how it works.”
Maybe drivers just aren't used to aggressive driving from Logano. Maybe Logano's tired of being pushed around and is now driving with a chip on his shoulder. He moved to a new team this year, making the move to Penske Racing to drive the No. 22 Ford as a teammate to reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford. Maybe Logano sees this as a fresh start to his, to this point, struggling Sprint Cup career.
Logano entered NASCAR with the moniker of "sliced bread," as in the best thing since. While he fared extremely well at the Nationwide level, he has struggled in the Sprint Cup pond. Maybe he was moved to Cup too early to replace Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart in the No. 20. He never seemed to get all that much respect in the Cup garage, not even from teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota. He was this young, skinny kid that many of the other Sprint Cup Series drivers just didn't seem to have a lot of respect for.
Fellow drivers, don't want to deal with Logano on the race track? Then maybe you should make sure you run in front of him. After all, this is racing, not pull over and let everyone pass.