The Frontstretch: Five Points to Ponder: Learning Curves, Hamlin's Back and Missed Walls by Danny Peters -- Tuesday March 26, 2013

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ONE: Logano Needs to Focus on Driving not Dueling

If Joey Logano wants to make better use of his time on track, he might want to start with paying attention to the road, not his rivals.

Another week and yet another driver infuriated with Joey Logano. This is becoming something of a theme, isn’t it folks? No one would argue that Logano should stick up for himself — and it’s certainly better than his Dad doing it for him — but the fact is he’s going about this all the wrong way. If you need any evidence of that, just look at his graceless post-race rant on Hamlin including the comment, “…that’s what he gets.” And then his throwing a water bottle at three-time champion Tony Stewart from behind the safety of his pit crew – hardly the move of a big boy now is it?

It is, in a way, reminiscent of the sort of battles his new teammate Brad Keselowski had with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards (among others) a few years back.

Looking at Logano’s stats you can understand why he’s in such a hurry to kick on and make a name for himself. Now in his sixth full season at the Cup level, Logano has a solitary pair of wins, a meager 17 top 5s, an average finish of 18.6 and a paltry 381 laps led in 152 races. For a driver that was such a “can’t miss” prospect coming up through the ranks those stats scream the exact opposite. Perhaps it’s best there’s an off weekend ahead of us, because it gives Logano some time to reflect and realize that he needs to concentrate on driving not dueling. Once he does that, the results may very well come — as they did for Keselowski in the form of a championship. But for now, Logano’s a much-hyped unproven commodity with a lot to learn and even more to prove.

TWO: Kyle Busch, Also Known As An Afterthought

What a weekend it was for Kyle Busch, sweeping both the Nationwide and Cup races. In total, he led 217 of the 350 total laps run this past weekend: 92/150 in the Nationwide Series race and 125/200 in the Cup race. At the Cup level, this was Busch’s 25th win, level now with Matt Kenseth and one more than his older brother Kurt. On the Nationwide side, it was a record 54th total win. But perhaps more impressively, it was his 42nd win in 108 second series races with over 8200 laps led driving for Joe Gibbs Racing: a ludicrously impressive 38.8% win percentage.

Has there ever been another driver-team combination with a better rate of wins per races run? I have to feel not. On any other weekend, Busch would likely have taken top billing but given the Logano-Hamlin-Stewart shenanigans, his west coast sweep took a back seat.

As he pointed out in his trademark sarcastic style in the winner’s post-race press conference, “I did win the race today. I’m sure that might be a story…. I’m sure it’s not.”

Well for once, Busch should be glad he’s not the story. In fact, he should hope that he continues to win and isn’t the story because when he’s not the lightning rod for controversy and gets his head down and gets on with it, his talent level is almost off the charts. For too long now fans, media and other drivers have been touting Busch as a future champion and while he’s won races in bunches he’s never once looked like a threat in the Chase. I’ve got a funny old feeling that will change this year if he can continue to do what he does in this new “quiet” style.

THREE: SAFER Barriers Need to be Everywhere. And I Mean Everywhere

What is it going to take for track owners to realize that racecars almost never conform to what you expect they’ll do? If there is a hole or a dangerous angle on a track a racecar will find it, you can bet your last dollar on that. Just look back at Elliott Sadler’s huge wreck into the grass berm at Pocono a couple years back – something the track corrected right away.

It is understood that the process for SAFER barriers is done in conjunction with NASCAR, but this is a situation we have to review before someone gets even more seriously injured than Denny Hamlin was last Sunday. All the walls (except the pit road dividing wall) should be equipped with SAFER barriers. NASCAR, as a sport, has made unbelievable strides in protecting the drivers – both in car design, driver safety features (like the HANS device) and the aforementioned barriers. They are right to be praised for all their efforts, countless lives saved and serious injuries avoided. But, the missing SAFER barriers is something that has to be fixed sooner rather than later.

Hamlin’s vicious wreck resulted in a lower back compression fracture. What this means for his season remains to be seen, but the likelihood is he will miss races and that has a knock-on effect for his team, his teammates his sponsors and his crew. Now I can’t prove that Hamlin would be fine had he hit a SAFER barrier, but given all we’ve seen in terms of hard wrecks it doesn’t seem a stretch to say he may very well have walked away unhurt.

Something needs to change here and fast before something we can’t change happens and that doesn’t bear thinking about.

FOUR: The Mayor of Hinchtown

Massive congratulations to Canada’s own James Hinchcliffe on his first IZOD IndyCar Series victory this past Sunday on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Hinchcliffe, who replaced Danica Patrick in the Andretti Autosport Go Daddy sponsored car, had a solid sophomore campaign in 2012, finishing eighth in points with a pair of third-place podium finishes at Long Beach and Milwaukee. This, then, was the year he was meant to push on and Hinch has done just that and more with a morale boosting victory in the first race of the 2013 season.

I worked on a commercial with Hinch last year and chatted him recently at the final IndyCar pre-season test at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park. I can genuinely say this couldn’t have happened to a better guy. The maiden win was the springboard he needed. Where he goes from here will certainly be interesting to watch.

FIVE: Get Well Soon Denny

And finally, a quick point on Denny Hamlin who at the time of writing is still to be released from hospital. The diagnosis is a L1 compression fracture in his back and there’s every chance he might be forced to sit out a number of races. Exactly how this all pans out remains to be seen and we’ll learn more this week following consultations with the doctors, but time away from the car seems a strong possibility.

Early on in the 2010 season, Hamlin tore his ACL playing pick up basketball, had surgery and then despite what many thought and predicted (myself included) didn’t miss a race or a beat on the way to nearly picking up a maiden title. What he did gritting it out in the early post-op races out was remarkable. That’s not to say this will happen again this season – a back injury is a very different animal – but don’t be surprised if it does. Hamlin came into the sport the hard way, working his way up, relying not on a trust fund but talent, character and opportunity grabbed tight with both hands. He’s a much tougher driver than some give him credit for. If anyone can bounce back quick, Hamlin can.

Editor’s Note: Following the submission on this article, Denny Hamlin was released from the Loma Linda University Medical Center and was on his way to fly home to Charlotte, NC. From there, he will meet with Dr. Jerry Punch, who will perform a more thorough evaluation to determine the extent of Hamlin’s injuries and outline a recovery process. At this time, his status for Martinsville remains unknown.

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Robin1
03/26/2013 06:31 AM
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My thoughts and prayers go out to Denny. I would be surprised if he was able to run a race any time soon. I heard the radio transmission right after he hit the wall and all he said was “My back, my back, my back” when Darian asked him how he was. Plus he crawled out of the car which could have caused more damage to his back. However, I hope I am wrong and he is back in fine form soon.

Carl D.
03/26/2013 07:27 AM
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I agree that the safer barriers would probably have, at the very least, lessened the severity of Hamlin’s injury. It was vicious hit he took. This one is on Nascar, not Logano. However, I agree with your first point… it’s time for Joey to shut up, quit tweeting, and focus on racing. Anyone can run their mouth, but only a few become Nascar champions.

Randy
03/26/2013 08:36 AM
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I agree Logano needs to grow up, but Hamlin’s injuries are on Nascar.

It’s incredeble how nascar operates. Waiting until someone is seriouly injured or dies until doing what should have already been done.

midasmicah
03/26/2013 09:06 AM
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You’re right on one thing. SAFER barriers need to be at every part of the track, inside and out. Regarding Logano. People have been saying he needs to stick for himself for a couple of years. Now, when he does, they’re all over him. He’s still got a lot to learn, but he HAD to do something about the “hush, little child” remarks that Hamlin made. I’m glad Hamlin’s okay. And yes, this wreck was on nascar, not Logano.

DonMei
03/26/2013 09:50 AM
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Lets say a few words of thanks for the Hans device. That impact into the wall was pretty damn hard and who knows what kind of Gs it generated, though I’ll bet it was enough to cause serious injury without a Hans.

Just talking
03/26/2013 10:37 AM
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Logano makes a lot of mistakes – didn’t we all? But we have been saying he has to defend himself, and now he does. Like someone said already, he had to defend himself against Hamlin’s remark. This was a racing incident. NASCAR caused Hamlin’s injury and should be ashamed of themselves. (no chance of that)

But this does have to stop. Logano needs to focus on driving. He may be fast this year. Let the talking stop for now.

They better be careful though. Remember Hamlin and others were better than Kes too. What happened since. Penske may be onto something again.

Michael in SoCal
03/26/2013 10:38 AM
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When Logano stated that Denny got what he deserved, it seemed pretty clear to me he wasn’t aware of any injury Hamlin may have had. He was referring to getting wrecked on the last lap of the race as being what he deserves, at least that’s how I see it. I could be wrong.

And out of curiosity, why should the pit lane dividing wall not have SAFER barriers on the outside?

Carl D.
03/26/2013 10:47 AM
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DonMei.. Great point about the Hans device. We all know what can happen when a driver hits the wall head-on without one.

Robert Eastman
03/26/2013 10:58 AM
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Joey Logano has been “picked on” ever since he’s come to NASCAR and he has rarely retaliated. It’s great to see him finally standing up for himself!
It’s amazing how jealousy can turn “wealthy accomplished Champions” into cry-babies!
I’ve lost all respect for “Phony Tony”… whining about being blocked when he “wrecked” millions of dollars of race-cars (25?) at Talladega because he “cut-down/blocked” Michael Waltrip on the last lap. Does he really think that he gets a “free pass” just because he says “gee, I’m sorry.” Now he’s showing his ignorance by saying that he’s going to teach “the kid” a lesson. Tony Stewart is acting Arrogant and STUPID (in this situation).

Sherri T
03/26/2013 11:26 AM
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Praying for Denny to heal quickly and as comfortably as possible. Would hate for him to have to miss races because NASCAR didn’t make the racing as safe as it should.

Upstate24fan
03/26/2013 12:39 PM
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Can’t agree more on SAFER barriers. NASCAR and tracks need to be pro-active, and not waiting for a car to hit an unprotected wall to make a change.
On a related note.

This is the only thing worrying me about the Truck race at Eldora (they aren’t installing SAFER barriers). Maybe because right now its a one-time experiment? But Eldora must be required to install SAFER barriers if Eldora becomes a repeat venue. I think Tony can afford it.

JP
03/26/2013 12:40 PM
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It would not surprise me if Hamlin missed the rest of the season with that kind of back injury.

Michael in SoCal
03/26/2013 12:43 PM
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To clarify my question above about having SAFER barriers on the pit road wall, I was referring to the outside (facing the track) portion of the wall that separates pit road from the front stretch / trioval section of a track, not the inner wall the pit crew jumps over.

Cheers Danny!

dh
03/26/2013 01:59 PM
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almost every year since the safer barriers, we see someone hit the wall, in a place that they don’t exist. track after track rectifies that issue in that location or locations where the walls need to be added. It’s time that all tracks spend the money, and figure this out – it’s not rocket science. The drivers, should actually just consider not showing up – see if NASCAR gets it. This sport is dangerous enough, they should try to fix the areas that are under their control. Done – end of story. It’s like or every innovation NASCAR takes forward – they take 8 steps back on something else.

as for Logano – I hope Tony thumps him one in the garage, that kid needs to realize he hasn’t done anything to be the driver he’s trying to be. You gotta earn it kid.

Larry Bennett
03/26/2013 02:03 PM
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I am glad this is an opinion piece and not actual reporting or else lwasuits would be flying. Stating that Logano’s comments were disgraceful is a disservice to your readers, and frankly, based on pure conjecture. Logano had no way of knowing of the severity of Hamlin’s injuries and stating otherwise is a huge bending of the truth. As most of the objective racing community understands, Logano was referring to the fact that Hamlin crashed out of the race, not that he “deserved” to get hurt, which he did not know. Additionally, in context, not calling out Tony “The Blocker” Stewart in your piece for his hypocritical actions is a shame. Logano has been picked on long enough. Would Tony do the same thing if it were Carl Edwards (oh yeah, they did have a tiff and Smoke wouldn’t dare attack him physically because he does have some sense in that noggin of his). I love your columns but this one is a major fail. Leave that type of opoinion writing to the likes of the New York Post. :)

Steven
03/26/2013 03:28 PM
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The ending note should probably read as Dr. Jerry Petty, not Dr. Jerry Punch.

Steve
03/26/2013 06:02 PM
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Looks like the author has a personal issue with Logano. Stating speculation as fact also loses you credibility which you provided plenty of speculation in this article. I knew immediately when Logano said “he gets what he gets” that he was talking about the wreck and not about him getting hurt. A reasonable person had to know he had no idea that Denny was hurt. It just looks to me that you are trying to create more drama than their really is.

MaxCO2
03/26/2013 08:53 PM
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Let us not forget that Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona resulted in the birth of the HANS device.
I’d bet that Denny Hamlin owes his life to the HANS device because this wreck looked a lot worse than Dale’s did.

Sue Rarick
03/27/2013 08:55 AM
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Agree with most here that Lagano did not know Hamlin was injured at the time of his statement.

Stewart is one of the worst blockers and it was him NOT Lagano that started it. Lagano was going for a win and had every right to block – just as Stewart had every right to bump him like he did (it’s called last lap racing)

Just as a sidebar We are talking about a 22 year old who form what I’ve been told was pretty good at handling himself during one on one confrontations on the hockey rink, when he played organized hockey. It just may be that the almost Gnome Stewart was lucky he did get seperated by the crew because it looked to me like Lagano only missed a shot to Stewarts head because of a crewmember pushing him back. Besides it’s kind of pathetic seeing a 40 year old man acting that way.

SHOEMAN
03/28/2013 12:05 PM
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Hope Denny recovers quickly and fully. Joey is going to win his share of future races and I wish him much sucess. But, he needs to forget the drama and let’s go racin boys.

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