Wide-open spaces on the track surface at Michigan International Speedway made for very few on-track incidents during Sunday’s CARFAX 400. The only spin to draw a caution occurred on lap 148, when Joey Logano’s No. 20 Home Depot Toyota got loose under Ryan Newman’s No. 39 Tornados Chevy, tagging Newman’s left rear and sending him for a spin. While he made no contact with anyone, the Stewart-Haas driver lost track position, flattened three tires which cost him a lap and had to fight just to finish 23rd. Logano, meanwhile, methodically worked his way through traffic and ended the day a solid 10th. But, as we all saw, even that run wasn’t enough to cool either driver down after a wreck which clearly tested their patience.
Camera crews caught Logano and Newman discussing the incident as the drivers made their way back to their motorhomes just after the race. Watching the replay, the initial assumption was that Newman confronted Logano about what happened, or at least Logano tried to grab Newman to deliver an apology. If the latter was the case, then the discussion likely would have been short. Instead, the exchange of words pressed longer than most such instances do when they are on camera, ending with Newman giving Logano a small shove and NASCAR officials both intervening and neutralizing the situation.
Newman declined to comment after the altercation, but Logano had plenty to say – and his take puts him in the wrong on a third driver clash in his young career.
He told ESPN, “I was asking [Newman] why he races everybody so hard all the time. I’m not the only one who says that every week. Of everyone out there, he’s the hardest one to pass. I don’t understand why. I mean, there’s 70 laps to go at a 2-mile racetrack. That’s a long ways to go. You know, if somebody races me clean, I race them [clean] back.”
For the record, Joey, it was 50. And while Logano has a point about give and take in his words, his methodology is off. Wasn’t Logano the one who spun into Newman after getting loose? Sure, Newman may have been racing him hard at the time, but Logano took the liberty of trying to throw his Toyota under Newman’s Chevy with just over 25% of the race remaining. If that’s the case, why did Logano feel the need to chase down Newman for a post-race rap session?
But the sophomore wasn’t done speaking in public. He continued with, “Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. did it with me earlier in the race; he passed me, and he was trying to pass cars in front of me. I helped him pass them, then I got back to him and he let me go.”
“That’s kind of how this (racing) – I’ve found – that it works. If you give someone respect, you get that back. But he just races everyone hard. He raced his boss, Tony Stewart, hard. I don’t understand it, but he’s been doing it a lot longer than me. I tried to talk to him about it, but I don’t know. I didn’t get nowhere.”
Just as he did with his very public showdown with Sunday’s winner Kevin Harvick in June, Logano made bold, definitive statements about Newman, stating that others share his opinion of the driver’s unnecessary on-track aggression – including Newman’s owner Stewart. Logano also believes he’s suddenly a genius on how the Gentleman’s Agreement works on the track, posturing by saying he tried to offer the same courtesy to Newman, only to not have it repaid just before the 19-year-old spun him out.
“There’s a time to race. When you’re running 400 miles, 500 miles, why do we gotta race each other so early in the race?” he continued, confused over what he labeled racing too hard at the wrong time. “It’s just frustrating when you’re trying to get by someone at that point. It wasn’t a big deal whether we passed each other or not at that point. Most times, if a faster car is behind me, I let them go, and hopefully I get that back later.”
“You know, I’ve done a lot with [Newman] – if he gets behind me, I’ll let him go. But I don’t know what to tell you. I wish I could talk to him and figure it out, but I think we both need to calm down first and then talk about it.”
There are two schools of thought on Logano’s actions Sunday. One agrees with both what he said and how he went about following up with Newman. The other admits all he said made logical sense – until you consider a couple of factors.
First, Logano is in the midst of only his second full Sprint Cup season, Newman his eighth – yet Logano sought the senior racer out as if to give Newman advice. That doesn’t add up in any workplace, especially the Sprint Cup garage area. Second, one problem with Logano’s approach was the premise itself. With fans leaving NASCAR in droves and others yawning through the first two-thirds of most races, Logano seems OK with letting a few positions slide from time to time. Sure, drivers are taught to save their equipment for the whole race, not push the issue, and not risk wadding up their racecars. But fans do pay to see a race. A race involves two entities gunning for the same prize. In NASCAR these days, if the leader breaks away in clean air and no one else in the pack is supposed to race each other, what are we left with for at least two hours every Sunday? Answer: a 200-mph parade that passes you twice a minute. Not thrilling.
Logano’s expectations aren’t completely far-fetched, but someone needs to buy him a WWDED bracelet: What Would Dale Earnhardt Do? Or Cale Yarborough. Or Curtis Turner. Or (here’s an easier one for him to relate to) his teammate Kyle Busch. Newman’s persona is akin to the tough-skinned good ol’ boys that used to permeate NASCAR in its rich history. You can bet that he doesn’t think he needs a talkin’ to from young Logano.
Finally, Logano has not been an angel himself in regard to driver etiquette. Harvick said that when the two had tangled before their infamous Pocono scrub, Logano was impossible to talk to about their problem. Greg Biffle has also had gripes over how hard and unfairly Logano has raced him, although those instances were usually late in races. Logano seems to be seeking a double standard: he expects drivers to talk to him when angry after a race (i.e. Harvick and Biffle), but insulates himself when they seek him out. That reputation will not suit him well if he hopes to have a long NASCAR career.
At least Logano’s emergence as more than a “ho-hum, happy go lucky youngster who is just glad to be blessed with the opportunity to race” is refreshing. Fans love to see drivers be outspoken about their qualms and frustrations, instead of delivering sanitized sound bites that downplay any kind of controversy. Logano fans surely got fired up as their driver sought out a veteran and delivered a message that he did not want to be pushed around.
But likewise, as in-the-right as Logano seemed after getting spun by Harvick at Pocono, he may have returned to even par after Michigan. Despite the spin on Sunday being an accident and possibly even caused by Newman initially, Logano got loose and spun the No. 39. Then he sought Newman for clarity at the end of the day! Wrong idea.
Yet for all the mistakes he made, we have to give Logano this much credit: at least he didn’t make reference to Krissie Newman wearing the fire suit of the family.
Listen to Doug weekly on The Allan Vigil Ford Lincoln Mercury Speedshop racing show with host Captain Herb Emory each Saturday, from 12-1 p.m., on News/Talk 750 WSB in Atlanta and on wsbradio.com. Doug also hosts podcasts on ChaseElliott.com and BillElliott.com.