Confetti flew. The fans cheered. The team high-fived one another. The camera closed in on the driver as he climbed from his cockpit, and then things went a bit odd. Instead of the obligatory slew of thanks and general thumping of his own back, Joey Logano avoided eye contact with both the camera and his interviewer as the reality of his Friday night Nationwide win sank in.
He may have driven past both his own teammate and Elliott Sadler to reach the checkers before all others, but he also left them in the wall. “[He spun his tires and] It got me stuck on him and I was trying to get off him when I saw him getting crossed up,” said Logano. “But, I couldn’t back up enough. I feel terrible.”
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this moment was it wasn’t readily apparent that Logano had actually done anything wrong on the restart. Despite his misgivings, the field came to the green, he pushed Sadler’s No. 2 on the straightaway. Sadler’s car got a bit squirrely, turned up the track and pushed Denny Hamlin‘s No. 18 into the wall; two leaders taken out by a bit of short-track style racing. That left Logano’s No. 20 free to speed off into the sunset.
Yes, Sadler blamed Logano, at least in the moments after he climbed out of his car. Who wouldn’t? Your machine didn’t turn sideways all by itself now, did it? Also, it wouldn’t take a leap of logic to decide Hamlin’s crumpled fenders could be entirely blamed on somebody other than Sadler.
But seriously, why was Logano taking this not so shocking finish to the race so hard?
In his post-race comments he stated, “You know [Sadler’s] running for points, you know the championship is really close between him and the No. 6 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) and you don’t want to be the guy that does something like that.”
OK, but isn’t the whole point of coming to the track to win? Watching Logano motor his way around ovals for the past half-decade, I’ve never noticed him willing to back off from a competitor so they can have a better day. That approach to race day just doesn’t add up in our daily racing lexicon. There’s one winner; one person who the record books will talk about in years to come. Very little will be said of the other 42 cars that drove under the green flag at any given event.
We like to say the points are important, but the championship system is in all reality little more than a means to generate coffee talk through the interminably long season. Besides that, if Logano had only entered the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 to assist a driver chasing their points standing, he simply wouldn’t have taken the lead. He wouldn’t have pushed Sadler to the green. There wouldn’t have been a wreck – unless it was to take out only Hamlin to ensure Sadler and Stenhouse had the track to themselves for a final dash for the cash. Which would be simply utter nonsense.
There remains the possibility Logano wanted to show his newfound maturity. It’s always nice to meet a young man who feels responsible for his actions, and yet victory lane at Darlington Raceway just seems to be the oddest place for the little angel on his shoulder to decide to speak up. Consciences are useful things in a world that encourages little white lies and even more so in a sport where pushing the limit is a matter of habit in the tech line, but why bemoan the fact you got away with it all today?
I guess I am simply stymied. Winning is a time for celebration and a recollection of all the great moves your team executed over the weekend. This is NASCAR. The unexpected happens in a joyously haphazard manner – such as fellow competitors spinning off your nose at the most opportune moment. Enjoy the serendipity when it happens.
Honest surprise, regret and guilt all have their place and time. So does joy and exuberance. I simply wish we got to see them in their proper proportion on Friday night. Joey Logano won that race. Regretting the fact is nothing more than a waste of time.
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