COMMENTARY | Overall, Sunday's race at Fontana couldn't have been much more enjoyable even if it had been scripted by NASCAR itself.
The cars were very racy, leading to awesome restarts and tons of great action most of the day as drivers took every lane possible at this wide track in their efforts to pass each other. The Gen 6 car got its first "A" rating of the year, in my book at least.
And, of course, there was the main attraction -- the return of Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to the track after last week's skirmish. Amazingly, these two drivers -- who have rarely raced each other up front on track in recent years, found themselves both with strong cars Sunday.
The last 10 laps were among the most exciting I've seen in a NASCAR race in recent years, and Hamlin and Logano were in the middle of a drag race on the last lap when all hell broke loose.
Contact, as could be expected, was made as the two battled with every last inch of effort for the win, and they wrecked -- Hamlin much more severely than Logano -- and Kyle Busch capitalized from third for the win. (Side note: One thing that was exposed in all of this was the fact that Hamlin crashed hard into an area with no SAFER barrier. This hit ended up sending him to the hospital, so it's a wakeup call that tracks need to make sure all walls get the SAFER treatment in order to prevent more injuries in the future.)
And then came the fireworks after the race, from an unexpected source -- Tony Stewart. Apparently, Smoke was not a fan of the blocking moves Joey Logano made on a late restart, so he decided to go over and try to smack some sense into Logano.
Chaos ensued, with the usual "crews splitting up the drivers" scenario stopping any serious fighting, but Smoke got a nice lick in before that happened. Logano tried to swing back, and we nearly had our first legitimate throwdown on track between two drivers in a long time.
Interviewed by the TV folks after the incident, an enraged Stewart said of Joey, after a stream of expletives, that he was going to "bust his a--".
That's some tough talk by Tony, but I have to set the record straight here, because Tony seems to be confused. You see, Tony Stewart is basically trashing Joey Logano for making a move to protect his position late in a race, when in fact Stewart has done the same thing many times during his 15 or so years in NASCAR. Sometimes, major crashes were the result of his moves, which was the case at Talladega last fall.
After the race, Logano explained the move the made for the block:
"I had to throw the block there. 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'll talk to him and we'll see what happens. I think he finished decent. We'll just talk about it some more."
The reality is that Logano's block on the restart was not illegal or out of line, he was just protecting his position. Especially considering what happened last week and the disrespect Logano has been getting from some of the veteran drivers, it is critical at this point in Logano's career that he shows some cojones out on the track. He can't just tweet at his competitors, he has to beat them on track to shut them up.
And Logano damn near did beat everyone on Sunday with a strong performance that shows he'll likely do much better in the 22 car for Roger Penske than he ever did in the 20 car for Joe Gibbs. Based on recent actions by Hamlin, I'm guessing Brad Keselowski, Logano's new teammate, is being a bit more helpful than old teammates like Hamlin were to him in his old ride, which is likely a big part of his resurgence this year.
Getting back to Stewart's actions though, there is no justifying what he did. It's a simple case of him being a sore loser who couldn't accept that someone else made a good move that he would have also made if he had been in the same position.
Bottom line: Tony had no reason to be as mad as he was after Sunday's race. Putting aside the hypocrisy of his own history of blocking, the end of Sunday's race was just good, old-fashioned, hard-nose, down-to-the-wire, tight racing between a bunch of drivers. Nobody was out of line in what they did, including Logano.
Deep down, Tony knows that too, even though he will probably never admit it.
And I'm starting to sense a theme here: Veteran drivers seem to want to pick on Joey because he's young and starting to show shades of what could be a very bright future. The veterans would like to think they can bully him into being a more timid driver, but as we saw Sunday, that's not likely to happen anytime soon.
And NASCAR is better off for it, because they need new talent like Logano coming up through the pipeline to battle with the veterans. With the Penske team, Joey is finally starting to show what he can do. So Tony should get used to it, because he'll likely be racing against Logano up front again real soon.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Joey Logano
- Tony Stewart