The Frontstretch: Did You Notice? ... Back-Breaking Maneuvers, The Perfect Combination And A Secret Success by Thomas Bowles -- Wednesday March 27, 2013

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Did You Notice?… The fine line Joey Logano walks now? The 22-year-old was hardly apologetic after breaking Denny Hamlin’s back, literally, with a last-lap incident that, regardless of intention, he felt evened the score.

So much of Logano’s response has been reported; we won’t go into detail on that in this space. But the result of this incident, after Hamlin’s compression fracture diagnosis, is a sobering reminder of the worst case scenario for “Boys, Have At It.” That’s not to say athletes despising each other is a bad thing; hatred, when expressed through aggression on the field, has built the backbone of contests like the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers – Baltimore Ravens rivalry. That passion, borne out of contempt for the opponent, always leaves those games as two of football’s best each year.

But what makes the difference in racing, leaving Logano in a scary “no man’s land” is the “lower level” options through which other athletes can retaliate, without concern. Yes, a punch to the face can hurt anyone, at anytime, in any sport. When two hockey players throw off the gloves and start going at it, a trip to the hospital can surely result.

Joey Logano embroiled himself in controversy at Auto Club Speedway after a blocking incident and a last-lap crash in which Denny Hamlin was sent to the hospital for a broken back.

But there are also plenty of mitigating factors. Teammates, along with referees, surround the pair, and can immediately break things up should they get out of hand. A fist, as opposed to, say, a gun, can only do so much damage to the human body. How often have you heard of one punch actually killing someone? It’s not ideal, but if two guys want to get even with each other, a little scrapping now and then isn’t life or death. There’s a reason boxing is a legal sport, after all… if opponents were falling down dead, after every blow I don’t think it’d be a Friday night feature on HBO.

Those types of safeguards aren’t in place when it comes to crashing a car, though. Any contact with the outside wall, at any time, is subject to forces of nature beyond anyone’s control. Simple physics can turn one hit into ten “punches,” or twenty, or serious injury or even death. Yes, tragedy hasn’t struck since that fateful day at Daytona in 2001, but as Hamlin and Michael Annett have recently reminded us, racing will never be 100% completely safe. A “punch back,” in this case by Logano, if done in a race car, could lead to his rival permanently sidelined or killed.

So why is fighting it out outside the car frowned on by comparison? It’s because that public image of two drivers playing fisticuffs goes against NASCAR’s “family” mentality. That’s why the powers that be promote “Boys, Have At It;” the image of cars wrecking, considered “part of the sport,” is far better for parents than seeing their kids’ role models teaching them how to knock somebody out. A 5-year-old won’t copycat wrecking their parents’ car on the highway; they will, however take to heart a driver who responds to every “crisis” incident with a punch to the head.

So, we’re left with scenes like Sunday, moments of excitement we all get wrapped up in. I’ll admit, like many others who either cover this sport, watch it or participate in it, the heart was jumping during every bit of those last 15 minutes. It’s hard to call yourself a race fan if it wasn’t. I hope that, for Logano’s sake, that Turn 3-4 incident, where the cars are going so much faster than at almost any other track (California’s pole-winning speed was 187+ MPH), was simply a natural case of him losing control. Because, for better or for worse, someone’s life was on the line with that wreck, and some serious, long-term consequences for everyone in the midst of it was far too close for comfort. Could you imagine the storyline this morning if Hamlin was paralyzed? With Logano’s postrace comments, like “Now we’re even” or “That’s what he gets,” it would open the door to him potentially getting sued for liability or even, in an extreme instance, charged with a criminal act.

I’d hate to see “Boys, Have At It” completely end because its core purpose, creating those kinds of rivalries and fantastic finishes, is wonderful for the sport. But there also is an unspoken “gentleman’s agreement” of sorts; drivers know when to and when not to cross the line. If too many drivers fail to understand that, the privilege will be lost just like racing back to the caution years ago. One bad egg could ruin it for everyone.

So, if Logano needs to learn from this incident – and I think he does – I surely hope those around him make sure it happens. With so many drivers speaking up on the incident, along with the long-term injury for Hamlin, there’s too much at risk here not to be concerned.

Did You Notice?… The key to quality racing on intermediates? Yes, NASCAR’s Gen-6 played a part in a Fontana finale that defied all expectations. It’s clear the more drivers are getting comfortable, the better they feel about a car that has enough grip to give them extended ability to run side by side.

But the real gold medal of the weekend, rivalries and blocking and scuffles aside, should go to Goodyear. For once, the tire company brought a compound that had just the right amount of wear for different strategies. Part of that is the age of the pavement; even a “rock hard” tire would wear on Fontana’s older asphalt. But you have to give credit where credit is due. Two years ago, that race would have been won going away by Kyle Busch on the restart. He had the fastest car; new tires wouldn’t have made one bit of difference for the pack as aero push would have kept any potential rivals seconds behind. Denny Hamlin would be healthy, after finishing about 20th, and Joey Logano would be wondering why the heck his team chose to pit.

Instead, we wound up with a finish that reminds longtime fans of the quality intermediate races of old. Now that’s a product you can go out and sell to the general public, right? Whatever formula Goodyear found out, let’s hope they bring it to other tracks. And whenever another oval hears a question about repaving, like Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was suggesting about Fontana’s backstretch? The company line should be as simple as three words: “DO. NOT. TOUCH.”

Did You Notice?… What’s made the difference for Kurt Busch? The last two weeks, it’s been rediscovering an ability to fight back. Last season, with Phoenix Racing whenever something awful would happen – be it a minor wreck, speeding penalty, whatever – Busch’s response, besides the yelling, would be to turn overaggressive. He’d try too hard to make up time, spinning out in the process or blowing out equipment for a team living its life on the mechanical edge.

Kurt Busch is sitting pretty at Furniture Row Racing—is he on the way to a win with the single-car effort?

Now? Busch still yells, but he believes in crew chief Todd Berrier and has just enough patience to wait for the race to come to him. That’s exactly what happened Sunday; after fighting, for multiple cautions, to be the Lucky Dog, Busch snatched it up in the last 100 miles and responded accordingly. When the opportunity presented itself, the equipment was there – not used up – and the No. 78’s march to the front rivaled that of his younger brother these past few weeks. Busch has also learned to be better in front of the mic, thanking his team after the race and saying nice things, publicly and prominently even if he doesn’t mean them.

What a far cry from last year, where that Chevy would have been in pieces long before that chance would come. So stay tuned; Martinsville’s next, a place this team was in contention to pull an upset last Fall until Busch got caught up in a series of late-race incidents. It’s rapidly looking like “if” they’re going to win a race has changed to “when.”

Did You Notice?… Quick hits before we take off…

- Who would have thought, two years ago we’d be five races into 2013 and Paul Menard would still be driving for Richard Childress, let alone the most consistent wheelman on the team? While he’s only won once, at Indianapolis in 2011, the “rich man’s son” has proven, at this point, that he belongs in this sport, driving that No. 27. But at the same time, with 12 top-10 finishes over the last year-plus compared to just one top-5 result, you have to wonder if he’s one of those “straight B” students that’s just never gonna go higher. That’s why Menard’s not considered a serious contender for the Chase; this team has to figure out how to turn those eighth-place runs they always get on intermediates into fifths, fourths, thirds, and the occasional win. Still, the longer he stays up there, fighting for the top 10, the pressure builds on owner Childress to shift focus from the No. 29, in essence a “lame duck” operation with Kevin Harvick, over to the team that’s consistently outperforming them.

- The number of races without a top-10 finish for Juan Pablo Montoya is now 26. You’d have to think, had that happened in any other situation, the driver would lose his job no matter how many open-wheel races they’ve won. I’m beginning to think Chip Ganassi made a mistake by not sucking it up and copycatting rival Roger Penske. A few years in Nationwide have done wonders for Sam Hornish, Jr.; now, he looks primed and ready to be successful in Sprint Cup next season. Montoya, despite making the Chase in the past, has looked even worse than Hornish’s first Cup stint as of late. Sometimes, a demotion really is the next best thing—the problem would be getting the proud Colombian to accept it. But at some point, doesn’t he lose the right to have an opinion on the matter?

- Could the last, best chance for Elliott Sadler lie dead ahead? Already reported to be driving a fourth Cup Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing on a limited schedule, you’d have to think he’s the No. 1 choice to sub for Denny Hamlin while he spends at least six weeks healing. Nationwide JGR teammate Brian Vickers is already committed to the No. 55 for Martinsville; other options, like Michael McDowell, don’t offer the same wealth of experience and success. Sadler’s the easy pick, a quick plug ‘n’ play for as long as Hamlin needs to sit out.

It’s also an amazing chance to audition. Sadler’s seen what limited success on the Cup side has done for Vickers’ career; the right runs, in the right places, could lead to Gibbs finally finding a way to expand come 2014.

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babydufus
03/27/2013 07:51 AM
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good points to ponder regarding boys have at it. did you notice that the inconsistency police issued no public penalties to a driver who threw punches (maybe landing one) and cursed like a sailor on tv???

Willy
03/27/2013 08:15 AM
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Don’t be surprised if Hamlin is out the rest of the year.

pepper
03/27/2013 08:35 AM
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Maybe Hamlin needs to learn a few things from this experience as well as Logano. Hamlin started this mess a few weeks ago by tweeting to Keselowski about his “genius” teammate. That brought a retort from Logano, and the battle was on. Hamlin has had a big mouth for years. He has tried to make himself look more important than he is. This period of his life could be a blessing if he uses it to do some self examination.

steve
03/27/2013 08:45 AM
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There’s a huge difference between deliberately wrecking another driver (such as Hamlin did to Logano the prior week) and going into a corner knowing that if your tires don’t hold that you are going to slide up into another driver (Logano to Hamlin).

Carl D.
03/27/2013 08:54 AM
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I agree with Pepper. Though Hamlin is the one who is injured, he’s not without some degree of responsibilty. Both drivers need to learn a lesson here. Close your mouths, close your twitter accounts, and focus on what you are paid to do… drive the racecar.

I also agree that Sadler is the obvious sub for Hamlin. The only question is how it might affect his run for the NNS championship. It doesn’t seem to me like it should be an issue, but I’m not Elliott Sadler or Joe Gibbs.

awww shucks
03/27/2013 09:04 AM
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i cannot agree with the accusation that Joey wrecked Denny. If he intentionally dumped him or put him in the wall i could see some blame on Joey. This could be just an amazingly unfortunate circumstance or it could be that Denny clipped Joey and in the end suffered the worst consequence of the deal. But blaming this on Joey and saying he needs to learn a lesson seems a little of a stretch considering he is doing what all the veterans have done. He has learned from the ones bitching the most about him. He has learned from Tony ALL ABOUT blocking, he learned from Denny at Bristol about wrecking someone. I’m sure at the time he was glad that Denny got wrecked but he took too much credit when he said he was that much a part of what happened to Denny. Remember Denny apologized to the media that Joey wrecked in Bristol.

Again, another lesson he learned from Denny – no apologies needed. I am not a Joey fan but this sport seems to really gang up on guys for the wrong reason and this is a wrong reason
Brian
03/27/2013 09:13 AM
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I disagree with your assertions that Logano did something wrong, besides possibly race a little too aggressive (but come on, a win was on the line!) and owes Hamlin an apology. The incident Sunday was nowhere near and blatant or wreckless as Stewart’s 25-car pileup at ‘dega last year or Gordon’s premeditated takeout of Bowyer at Phoenix. Hamlin unfortunately got injured as a result of the crash, but it wasn’t because Logano intentionally wrecked him. Logano doesn’t owe anyone an apology, except perhaps to his crew for smashing up his car.

midasmicah
03/27/2013 10:04 AM
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I’m sorry about what happened to Hamlin, but you can blame nas$car for the lack of a SAFER barrier. But don’t try to put all of this on Logano. Other drivers have been pushing him around since he came to nas$car. He had to start sticking up for himself. There’s a double standard here. Stewart can wreck over half the field atTalladega last year and it’s okay. Hamlin and Harvick can wreck Logano with no repercussions, Did Harvick sound apologetic at that point? Logano’s comments after the race were made before he knew what happened to Hamlin. At some point Logano HAD to fight back or risk getting run out of the cup series.

Michael in SoCal
03/27/2013 11:21 AM
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One other thing that contributed to the great end of the Fontana race were a few cautions in the last 40 laps that kept the field together and allowed for some tire strategy to be used. Maybe Bruton was onto something about those pre-planned cautions, maybe one with 40 to go and one with 20 to go (depending on track size), so that tire strategy and a tighter field could make for a good race ending.

Dane
03/27/2013 11:26 AM
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Not a fan of either, but Joey did what every driver would do when a win is on the line. See Kyle Busch vs. Kyle Larson two weeks ago – crowding another driver is nothing new.

drgonzo
03/27/2013 12:58 PM
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It is laughable how many of you think that Logano didn’t intintially wreck hamlin. His quote after the race confirmed he did it on purpose (although I don’t think he wanted Hamlin to actually be hurt).

He only backtracked once he knew Hamlin was seriously hurt.

I have never given Logano much thought, but he drove that race like he had been taking driving lessons from the cup version of Johnny Sauter. Standing up for yourself doesn’t mean driving like an a**.

Upstate24fan
03/27/2013 01:34 PM
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I don’t think Logano intended to wreck Hamiln. I saw it more as Logano was going for the win and was willing to bounce off of Hamlin to do it. He probably would have done the same if it wasn’t Hamlin beside him.

On his post-race comments. I don’t think Logano knew Hamiln was hurt, or he wouldn’t have said that. It should make drivers think a little more about what they say after they have been in a wreck.

ginaV24
03/27/2013 01:57 PM
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Sorry that Hamlin is injured, that’s the downside of what was an exciting finish to the race. IMO the major injuries were due to NASCAR/ISC’s negligence in installing SAFER barriers everywhere. The logic of “a car never hit there before” is so lame.

I don’t have any problem with the door banging that the drivers did, although certainly at a wide fast track like Fontana, things are much more likely to go wrong. It’s a long way to a wall at that track.

Stewart is a bad tempered blowhard with a selective memory. I think he’s entertaining from the point of view that as long as it’s not involving my favorite driver, he’s fun to watch make an idiot of himself. But he was wrong, way wrong in what he said and did.

I’m amazed that Goodyear finally got it right with the tires. Gee, if the tires wear out, a few cautions fall at the “right” times and it actually turns into an interesting race. I still watch Fox with the sound muted. I’m so not into the Waltrip Brothers show. At least the Smothers Brothers were funny.

Just talking
03/27/2013 02:49 PM
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Gina24 – a Smothers Brothers reference – you are my new idol on this site. (It was a tie between Mike SoCal and Carl D.)

The media seems determined to make Logano a villian. We plead for hard racing, but only selectively. I think Carl D and Pepper above put it very well.

Lets hope Hamlin is back soon and we can move on.

It’s been nice having other guys to talk about (terrible circumstances with Hamlin I know) other than Johnson. I wonder if 48 will struggle with the new car.

ginaV24
03/27/2013 05:51 PM
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Just Talking – thank you very much, I’m glad someone enjoyed it.

It is interesting about the media and the love/hate relationship they seem to have with racing – maybe the fans have some of that, too. I loved what I saw at Cali (before knowing Hamlin was hurt). I WANT to be excited about watching and going to races again. I WANT to see side by side racing – that’s the whole point and I think most fans want that, too.

The media would like to make Logano a villan but he’s really not the type for the role. The comment “he deserved it” after the race reminded me of just how young he really is. Now Kyle Busch, he embraces his inner evil twin! So does Stewart – even when he is absolutely wrong.

I was sorry to read the news that Hamlin’s back injury will probably keep him out of the car. A lumbar fracture is not something to play around with – at least I wouldn’t want to do it.

Johnson have trouble with the Gen6? We can only hope!

Steve
03/27/2013 07:02 PM
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I stopped reading after the first paragraph. Blaming Denny’s broken back on Joey is narrow minded at best. That’s like Kyle Larson being blamed for hurting the fans at Daytona. What a garbage statement. I expected better than this from Tom.

EZ
03/28/2013 07:48 PM
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Yeah this whole article is pretty much Bullshit…

 

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Recent articles from Tom Bowles:

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