BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Clint Bowyer emerged from his car on pit road Sunday afternoon, flushed and all ready to talk about his solid fifth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway. But then something caught his eye on the track's JumboTron.
"Hey everybody, it's Bristol. They're fightin'! How 'bout THAT!" Bowyer shouted over the track's public-address system. "It's what you're supposed to do at Bristol."
If fighting is standard behavior at the World's Fastest Half-Mile, then what Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin did in the aftermath of the Food City 500 was downright appropriate. If nothing else, it reinforced the theory that close-quarters, full-contact racing on the .533-mile track is back in earnest.
Logano was in line for his best finish of the young NASCAR Sprint Cup season, working his way up from 10th starting spot to challenge for the lead in the second half of the 500-lap race. But as he battled leader Jeff Gordon on Lap 348, Hamlin gained on the front-running pair and nudged Logano into the backstretch wall.
"I just, you know, I meant to run into him," Hamlin said. "I didn't mean to spin him out, but his day was fine. He still had a bad day anyway for whatever reason. You know, just, we finished bad and he finished bad. It's even."
"OK, sure," Logano shrugged. "If he didn't mean to wreck me, I think he would've said he's sorry. But he didn't say that."
Both drivers -- teammates with Joe Gibbs Racing as recently as four months ago -- actually managed to rebound into the top 10 before both their days soured. Logano nudged Hamlin from behind when leader Brad Keselowski bogged down on the race's final restart and the two combatants limped home from there. Neither driver cooled down on the so-called cool-down lap.
After parking and dismounting, Logano leaned his head into the cockpit of Hamlin's Toyota. Words were exchanged before a Hamlin crewman pulled Logano away. That escalated into a full-fledged scuffle as the fans -- and simultaneously Bowyer -- roared with approval.
"I think part of it's Bristol racing, but part of it's ridiculous," Logano said. "Whatever. I had a fast race car and I've just had it. ?
"I feel like I race him clean all the time, and he's going to do that. I understand the way he races now that he's not my teammate, and I will race him the same way he races me."
What was Hamlin's response when asked what Logano said to him?
"He said he was coming for me," Hamlin said. "I usually don't see him, so it's usually not a factor."
The chippy relationship between the two former Gibbs teammates worsened after the season-opening Daytona 500 when the two engaged in a tense Twitter exchange, highlighted by Hamlin sarcastically calling Logano a "genius" for his drafting tactics. Post-race Sunday, Logano certainly had the social-media insult fresh in his head.
"If we didn't (have a problem), we do now," Logano said. "Send that message. Tweet that!"
And so he did, issuing this Twitter salvo after the race: "Hey @dennyhamlin great job protecting that genius brain of yours by keeping your helmet on." To which Hamlin responded: "Why's that.. What would u do?"
The makings of a feud may be top of mind when the circuit hits Auto Club Speedway next weekend, though the speed of the 2-mile track does not lend itself to settling scores. Darian Grubb, Hamlin's crew chief, did his best to diffuse the situation, saying the No. 11 JGR team's focus would not change.
"We've just got to take control of our own destiny," Grubb said flatly. "(Our) team has to do what it has to do to win a championship and not worry about anybody else."
Pole-starter Kyle Busch, a current teammate to Hamlin and former teammate to Logano, has been a lightning-rod figure when it comes to on-track dust-ups in the past. On Sunday, he was Switzerland, playing the neutrality card when asked what he saw transpire.
"I love Joey. I think he's a good little racer; he works really hard, too," Busch said. "I have no comment to it because I didn't see any of the first incident and I didn't see anything afterwards. I just heard the crowd.
"It's a little disheartening that we all can't just get along."
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